Stage East’s New Year’s Eve online production of It’s a Wonderful Life was a resounding success, with 100 spectators joining the 19 cast members for a vigorous reading of the holiday classic, keeping the theater’s New Year’s Eve tradition alive.
“I tried to stay as faithful to the film as possible,” said Brian Schuth, Stage East President, who adapted the script for the show. “But it was the combined effort and creativity of the cast that made the event worthwhile. Despite limited rehearsal time and the inability to work in person, people came up with costumes, props, backgrounds, characterizations, and insights into the show that went well beyond anything I could have written.”
The Stage East production team, including Mark Macey, Bernie Cecire, Kim Vogel, and Elizabeth Nichols-Goodliff, worked hard to learn how to use the Zoom platform effectively for remote theater. “Zoom has a lot of features, and we just needed to figure them out once we decided what exactly we needed,” noted Vogel. “The sound effects were a little trickier, but in the end Bernie’s software program worked perfectly.”
Macey and Cecire put together nearly 150 sound clips to give the production additional texture and depth; in addition, original compositions by Goodliff were prerecorded, as well as the final tune, “Auld Lang Syne.” One of the frustrations of Zoom is that time lag destroys any ability for people to sing together. To the rescue, so that the cast could appear to sing a rousing chorus at the show’s end, John Newell and members of Quoddy Voices put together a recording (via their usual virtual chorus model) of the New Year standard for cast to lip-sync.
Spectators watched from all over the country, attending from places as far afield as California, Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan and Tennessee. “It was a very relaxing and humorous experience,” noted Joe Passanisi, an Eastport summer resident who Zoomed in with wife Sherrie from West Palm Beach, FL. “It was great to see so many familiar faces acting out the many characters. We are looking forward to many more performances in 2021!”
Cast members Zoomed in from all over Washington County, including Alexander, Dennysville, East Machias, Eastport and Perry, as well as farther afield: Portland, ME; Somerville, MA; and Salt Lake City, UT.
As the production concluded, the Zoom chat filled with thanks and kudos, but the most enthusiastic may have been Coleman Brice’s: “This is effin’ FANTASTIC. BRAVO ALL! Odd to believe but … hearing this dialogue and background effects and music in real time while tending a fire really enhanced the timeless insights and values expressed in this play. Thank you all and Happy New Year!”
The show was offered for free, but a plea was made at the start for donations to Stage East, which is strategizing to return as a much more ambitious organization in 2021. Every donation would be matched over the 24-hour period following the show. “The donations were very generous,” noted Schuth the following day. “I’m so grateful for the community that supports us, and moved that they would be so willing to support us in a year where we’ve been unable to do our work. We will make good use of it when we return to the live stage!”
Stage East is a constituent group of Eastport Arts Center. The production was a project of the theater group’s online theater class, Play by Play, which has been meeting via Zoom through the fall, and which will resume in January. More information may be found at eastportartscenter.org, or by emailing Play by Play’s organizer, Mark Macey, at email@example.com.