WNMTC virtual choir brings performers’ passion in unison
Creative muscles, like the body, can atrophy without proper use over time, Western Nevada College professor of music Stephanie Arrigotti says, and local artists and performers have been seeking to flex their imaginative power any way they can.
But though the Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company’s productions long have been successful in the past, those came to a standstill with this year’s onset of COVID-19. So Arrigotti decided ultimately she would have to try to do something to keep the creativity going.
“Broadway has shut down, so our friends who are auditioning and working there, many of them have come home, there’s nothing for them to do there,” she said. “You can’t say, ‘I’ll stop for a year,’ because in that year you just go backwards. It’s a process.”
Arrigotti, producer and director for WNMTC, has created a virtual choir, Broadway Rising!, that invites the performers from her past shows and new students entering her fall classes to record remote video performances in concert format. In the past few months, this choir already has recorded Broadway musical favorites “One Day More” from “Les Misérables,” “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” and “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen” with others to come.
Broadway Rising! is rooted in WNMTC’s origins in Carson City, where visitors have been drawn to the 578-seat community center for two annual productions in the spring and fall. Arrigotti has produced 106 in-person productions with WNMTC, including “Mamma Mia!,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Misérables,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” They’ve all been well-received, with fall shows receiving ticket counts of 6,000 to 7,000 on average, and are essential to WNMTC’s growth and identity. The company is self-supporting with its own space and warehouse to hold its own productions and is academically tied to WNC, where students study performance skills that can lead to professional careers.
“It is a big deal,” she said. “It has been something that has been such a source of joy to the hundreds of people that create it, and the letters we receive from the audiences tells us the joy has spread to thousands of people who come.”
The productions consist of students and professionals in the past 30 years. Some have received college degrees in the performing arts. Others have gone on to teach while others perform for the pure joy of dancing, acting or singing live, but when COVID-19 hit this year, everyone with a passion to perform needed a new outlet, she said.
“We mix the professionals we have with the aspiring students who are working their way up in a variety of areas, and that’s the talent base,” she said. “They come from some of Carson, Reno, Tahoe, Dayton and Gardnerville. We have a wonderful cache of performers with nothing to do and nowhere to go.”
She starts by selecting the music and laying down the audio tracks. Every performer then sends in a recording of their contribution from home, often practicing for several hours. They sing their own part, whether as a soprano, alto, tenor or bass, and once every choir member’s recording is received, the digital work begins. No one can do it all at once because Zoom is asynchronous, Arrigotti said. If everybody tries singing all at once and the technicians tried recording live on Zoom, the sound won’t carry.
“I went to a birthday party and they said, ‘Sing happy birthday,’ (on Zoom) and everybody’s singing at different times,” she said. “You can’t rehearse on Zoom. But there are ways when a director records with a choir one person at a time.”
Arrigotti has recruited the help of recording engineer John Shipley, video editor Tara Burke and music technician Tristan Selzler to assist in the technical production and recordings.
They work on perfecting the blend, balancing audio levels and creating the look of the video, making sure the soloists are given their due. It takes about 40 hours in all to make one recording from all the footage they receive, she said.
The choir members who are singing and recording from home aren’t all centrally located in Northern Nevada. Participant Brianne Vanderveer grew up in Carson City, but now she and her husband, Phillip, another member, live in Clovis, Calif. near Fresno and stay in touch with Arrigotti and the others through Zoom. They both worked professionally in theater for a few years, but now she remains at home with her children and he works with Pandora as an engineer. The couple originally met while performing regionally in “Clue the Musical” in which she played Miss Scarlett and he performed as Professor Plum, and they fell as much in love with theater as they had with each other. She appeared on stage for the first time in a youth production of “Beauty and the Beast,” going on to play Kim MacAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie.” She would eventually respond to Arrigotti’s Facebook post about forming the choir.
“We haven’t stopped theater, but we took a detour,” she said, explaining they responded to Arrigotti’s Facebook post calling for singers for Broadway Rising!
Vanderveer said their experience with Arrigotti has been rewarding.
“We do Zoom calls with the choir, we learn the music, and my husband is a brilliant piano player, so we have two kids – a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old who sings the vowels – and we learn our parts, rehearse it, and sometimes we sing for each other,” Vanderveer said. “We lay down our tracks.”
She said they memorize their lyrics and record it before sending it to Arrigotti.
“It’s a little bit of a learning curve to figure out our process and how it’d go on our end, and a production team just makes it magic from so many different voices, and I’m super impressed by them just not being in the same with room with everyone, but we sit in on Zoom, we’ll sing it through together,” she said. “It’s so much fun when they reveal the final product and we all get to watch.”
Vanderveer said working with Arrigotti and being a part of the choir has been an important connection to others during the pandemic.
“Stephanie, as far as I remember, has always had a beautiful artistic vision from the start of every production,” Vanderveer said. “She’s great at leading everybody and inspiring everybody toward a vision.”
Arrigotti is collaborating with choreographer and assistant director Gina Kaskie Davis, vocal director Judy Monson, Shipley and Burke to offer the one-credit Broadway Rising! or the new two-credit song-and-dance ensemble “That’s Entertainment” courses this fall at WNC. Anyone can take the classes without audition.
“I think what makes our virtual choir a bit unique is that we try to add sets and – because I’m a musical theater director – that I always see, when I design my shows, when I’m reading lines or listening to the music, I see the lighting, I see the sets, I feel the total impression when I’m approaching these things,” she said. “It’s not just somebody singing a pretty song in their living room. There needs to be an emotional impact from the music.”