Winter play unravels into production

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Auditions for “Unraveling” occur in a very different manner than normal due to COVID-19 restrictions. “For auditions, we each sent in a filmed audition with two songs from the show. Then, we had two rounds of callbacks and the one we read in front of the writer,” Shavelson said. Similar to the format of the play, auditions had to be filmed and analyzed virtually. (Photo/Unraveling the Musical)

With the changes that COVID-19 brought, the performing arts have been transformed as never before. However, this is not stopping the acting department from performing a new, cutting-edge musical called “Unraveling.” Recently written by siblings Rossella Lamendola, Matt Annati and Renata Annati, members of a pop/rock band China Doll, “Unraveling” documents three main characters who form a rock band after their abusive childhoods.

Siblings Ava, Tori and Michael, played by sophomore Diane Li, sophomore Emma Ferguson and junior Ethan Shavelson, respectively, form a band after their difficult childhood due to their love of music. Despite initial success, trouble soon looms as a new abusive presence enters the siblings’ lives. Complex relationships and deep meanings underscore the play.

Like their characters, the three playwrights found music as a refuge during their childhood, as well as a bond they needed during their tough times. This personal, real experience has made it difficult for the actors who are tasked with representing their lives both accurately and respectfully.

“The places the scenes are set and the story itself is real and actually happened,” Li said. “This, to me, is just incredible and puts a little bit of pressure because I want to tell their story as best as possible.”

To aid with this dilemma, the performers had a workshop on Google Meets Sept. 9 with the writer to better understand their characters and the plot. As the first people in the United States to do a full production of “Unraveling,” performers had an added difficulty that was remediated by close connections among the actors and the writers. For auditions, even, actors were able to have callbacks in front of the writer, who provided her input.

Set to rock music and covering sensitive topics such as death and drug abuse, “Unraveling” enters new territory atypical for normal Broadway plays. The music is very difficult, due to the music having been recently written and its genre (rock).

“The songs are super complex and difficult. There are so many parts of the score where people are singing harmonies and at different tempos,” Li said. “Just getting the music down was very difficult to learn and memorize.”

In accordance with new COVID-19 regulations, rehearsals and the performance look very different from normal for these performers. For safety reasons, at all times, the performers must be six feet apart and always wear masks. This brings yet another challenge to the actors who cannot interact with each other in close proximity during the scenes.

“[The new protocol] means we will not have any of the other actors there to play off of while we are filming,” Shavelson said. All the music, as well, must be recorded separately and not performed live in the final filmed version.

The show is pre-filmed, as a large audience is not allowed, and will be released Jan. 8-11. The musical will be streamed with a soon to be released pay-per-view link.

Eva, a junior at American Heritage School, is starting her first year as a writer for the Patriot Post. She enjoys all things literature and is part of many clubs including the National Honor Society, Key Club and Black Student Union. When she is not studying, she is at swim practice or watching Netflix.

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