Every year, the McCallum Theatre showcases local performers via its Open Call Talent Project—but the series of April shows, like so many other events, was a casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.
However, the show must go on—so Open Call 2020 has moved from the stage to the screen: At 6:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, KESQ Channel 3 will air a special half-hour video, produced by the McCallum and hosted by Patrick Evans, showcasing the Open Call finalists. The video was filmed in the desert adjacent to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the vice president of education at the McCallum, explained how Open Call normally works, during a recent phone interview.
“It’s a competition where people submit, and then we have callbacks; then we get to about 18 to 20 finalists,” Thuresson-Frary said. “The whole thing is a learning process, but there’s also an added competition element. What we always do with our cast is have all of them participate in a big finale number that is inspired by the finalists every year. A big part of the rehearsals for the show is practicing that finale number. That’s a big learning experience, too, because if you’re a vocalist, you’ll get to dance; if you’re a dancer, you’ll get to sing; and if you’re a musician, you’ll get to do both: Every cast member participates in a choreographed experience. It’s created to be an inspiration for the audience members, who hopefully go home and begin some risk-taking of their own.”
Thuresson-Frary said the McCallum announced this year’s Open Call finalists shortly before the theater shut down in March.
“Had it not been for us already announcing our finalists, we probably wouldn’t have done anything this year,” she said. “We had a few cast members this year who have tried out for several years and finally made it, and I really wanted to figure out a way that we could continue to do the show. We also already had the finale number written.
“We started trying to figure out how to do it this year and thought that we couldn’t really include the competition element. We have several large groups and dance companies, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice anywhere. We have a pretty high standard for the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call project, so if we were to put anything out there that wasn’t at a certain level, it wouldn’t feel like a good alternative. We also were looking at how to perform the finale number—while following the (social-distancing) mandates. We really wanted to try to do something a lot more exciting than all the videos that have been appearing of people that are stuck at home.”
Thuresson-Frary and her team started the process by having the finalists record themselves.
“We met with everyone over Zoom and gave them the music and their parts,” she said. “They worked back and forth with Paul (Cracchiolo), our music director, and worked out a good-quality product to send in. While we were doing this, mandates started to be lifted, and we eventually arrived at a time where we felt it was safe to record a good-quality video that we would feel comfortable putting the McCallum name on. We collaborated with Tracker Studios’ Doug VanSant, and A. Wolf Mearns, who are also musicians. All of us brainstormed a way to complete this project in a way that is safe and good-quality.”
Filming inside the McCallum wasn’t an option; Thuresson-Frary and her team wanted a safe, outside location where mask-wearing and social distancing could take place.
“That’s where The Living Desert came into play,” she said. “We wanted to have a wild desert feel, especially under the circumstances, to be able to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the conditions we live in. We reached out to Judy Esterbrook, who is the sales manager of The Living Desert, and she just so happened to be at Open Call last year and was fully on board for helping us out. They were generous enough to let us use the wild desert area behind their zoo and gardens and provided us with shuttle service that transported our artists individually. There were a lot of logistics to work out, and The Living Desert was very generous and became a very lovely partner. That was the same week that the zoo was allowed to re-open, so everything worked out.”
After she saw the first video cut, Thuresson-Frary said she knew they had made something special.
“It’s now been a month of post-production and a lot of back and forth between Tracker Studios and us,” Thuresson-Frary said. “I didn’t really want to reach out to KESQ (too early), because there were so many variables that could’ve easily put a stop to this project at any point in time. Once I felt confident that we had something that was Open Call-quality, I called over to KESQ and asked for them to partner with us. We feel we have something really special that the community will enjoy. I naively thought that they had a little program that they could stick our (seven-minute) music video into, but they actually asked us to provide them with a whole half-hour. That’s mainly what we’ve been working on, and we’re almost ready to hand it over.”
However, transforming a seven-minute video into a half-hour show was not necessarily easy.
“We were able to already film our usual artist vignettes, so we decided to include those,” she said. “… Each performer will be introduced and have their vignette aired. We also had an intern, an aspiring filmmaker, who created a behind-the-scenes movie for us. I thought that many people wouldn’t believe that all of these performers were in the same place at the same time, so he has some behind-the-scenes footage. The music video is the ending of the 30 minutes.”
While Thuresson-Frary said she’s disappointed that the Open Call shows had to be cancelled, she’s proud that the video will give the talented performers their moment in the spotlight.
“We usually sell out our Open Call series, and we put on four shows, so I know there are a lot of people who really love this project,” Thuresson-Frary said. “There are some people who only come to the McCallum Theatre for our show. This music video can be a testament to the kind of work that we’re able to do for the community, as we’ve been doing Open Call for about 20 years now. … It’s designed to showcase all of the art this valley has to offer. All of these artists didn’t really get to work together, but we’re hoping that this will provide them a sense of community across this divide of distancing.”
For more information, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com/index.php/education/open-call.