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'Found' Brings Mira Costa Drama/Tech To New Levels of Technological Wizardry

May 03, 2021 01:12PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
"Found" - the spring musical presented by the Mira Costa High School Drama/Tech Department - brings the department's pandemic-era productions to new heights of technological wizardry.

Found is an original musical revue that follows the journey of a cast and crew of Mira Costa Drama/Tech students who are "magically transported from the doldrums of their COVID lives to the bright lights of the Costa stage." Curated with numbers from some of the most beloved musicals - Annie, A Chorus Line, and Dear Evan Hansen, to name a few - Found showcases a selection of hopeful songs tailored especially for the cast and filmed for live-streaming at home.

Found can be seen on May 14 and 15 at 7:00 p.m., May 21 and 22 and 7:00 p.m., and also on May 22 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available here for $11 per device.

"We had success with our fall Zoom productions, but with this show, we wanted to do something different - partly because Zoom doesn't work well with vocal synchronization because of latency issues," said Mira Costa Drama Director Jonathan Westerberg. "So we filmed this entire production and dubbed in all the audio recordings students did from the safety of their homes."

To create the different effects in Found, the team took those home-filmed segments as well as segments filmed individually on the Costa stage, mixed and edited the segments, and then brought in new special effects to make it appear that students were on stage together in certain scenes.

This is the first film that Mira Costa Drama/Tech has done as a department, said Westerberg. "I'm not certain if it will be the only one, but we specialize in our first love which is live theatre, so we will always mount live shows unless there are conditions that prevent it," he added.

'Found' Is A Technological Labor of Love

Found uses 12 musical theater songs that Westerberg, choreographer Christopher Albrecht, and Drama/Tech program associate and English teacher Maddie Hutchinson selected based around the theme of hope. Each of these numbers is sung by a character or characters who are expressing some type of hope that is central to the plot of the show the songs were pulled from.

After selecting the songs, the team devised a simple plot that imagined a cast of Costa Drama/Tech students who long to be performing the spring musical on stage and are magically transported to the auditorium where their hopes are realized.

Students auditioned by submitting vocal and choreography videos. The show was cast and all vocal staging and choreography rehearsals were held over Zoom.

Cast members then came to the Mira Costa auditorium individually to film their parts under COVID-19 safety protocols. Additionally, students shot some of the video themselves from home using their phones. 

All the videos were then assembled in the editing process to place students on screen together.

"Most of the show will show students in separate video windows, though we shipped off two numbers to a special effects designer to overlay images, so that it appears as if everyone were actually sharing the same stage at the same time," said Westerberg.

Production Reflects 'A Massive Learning Curve'

Westerberg called the entire effort "a massive learning curve for all of us."

"No matter how much you try to create a sense of unity when rehearsing over Zoom and performing in isolation, it isn't the same as doing live theater and sharing the rehearsal process in person," he said. "Our students have chosen theater because they love the medium and because they love the community and collaboration. This process required them to develop the grit and self-discipline to work from home under deadlines, and prior to filming in the auditorium, to motivate and prepare without the support and unity of their cast mates. The crew also had to learn to manage their assignment from afar and, over the course of several months, to provide coverage for all of the technical needs we had in the theater while filming. It was an entirely unique process."

The pandemic has brought both heartbreak and new inspiration to the Mira Costa Drama/Tech Department. Last spring, at the start of the pandemic shutdown, Mira Costa Drama/Tech had to make the "crushing" decision to cancel its spring musical after the effort was already months into production. For the fall, the department flexed its creative muscle by producing not one but two ambitious Zoom-based productions, despite the lack of in-person auditions, rehearsals, costuming, or staging.

"COVID required that we pivot away from doing live theater; it also required that we film people in isolation. So none of this was familiar to the students and the production team," said Westerberg. "[Found] stretched our creativity in wonderful ways and gave students a concrete sense of what it means to be a film performer and how that differs - in both the process and the product--from being a performer of live theater."

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