The living room may be a place to watch TV, work on homework or lounge around after a long day of work, but for a dedicated group of IU musical theater students, the living room has become a place of expression and community.
“Unmuted Living Room Concerts” was created by a cohort of 12 seniors in the B.F.A Musical Theatre program. The student-run production is a series of biweekly musical performances with covers “ranging from Disney to depressing,” according to the series’ YouTube channel.
The entire production team and performers are in their final year of study in the musical theatre program, a year that would typically end with a senior showcase in New York City. The showcase typically serves as a chance for students to perform for casting directors, talent agents and other theatre professionals.
While the showcase has been canceled for this year due to COVID-19, this production may be a way for the seniors to put themselves out there and potentially get on the screens of directors, video editor Ethan St. Germain said.
“A lot of the time, the institutions that are in place have the power to say no or turn down creative ideas,” St. Germain said. “It isn't that we didn’t take no for an answer, it’s that the word no was not in our vocabulary when it came to our creativity.”
The series is also an opportunity for the seniors to collaborate with one another and share their music with the community, too, senior Justin Smusz said. Producers Cassia Scagnoli, Victoria Wiley, and Smusz spearheaded the project.
“The idea kind of stemmed from Tiny Desk Concerts,” Scagnoli said. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this in my house?”
They began the process during the fall 2020 semester by constructing a performance space. The students spent hours exploring the Bloomington area in hopes of finding the needed elements to make the venue performance ready, such as lighting, decorations and recording equipment, with significant help coming from other students and organizations, according to Scagnoli.
“Everyone just so happened to have all the tools we would need,” Scagnoli said. “It was a matter of getting things like foam squares for acoustics and making them look cool.”
The group was also able to obtain an array of lights, some of which came from friends in University Players, a nonprofit theater organization run by IU students.
Though the performance space may look similar in the videos, a variety of props fill the room. Wiley emphasized that the set is intended to be representative of the whole class.
“It’s really personal, and every knick knack is from someone who helped with Unmuted,” Wiley said. “If you watch, it changes from week to week and from performer to performer. Each person brought something special to the space.”
Unmuted Living Room Concerts was designed primarily to create performance opportunities, but the performers were also able to develop technical skills necessary to put the pieces of this production together, Wiley said.
Many students took on roles on the production team, with Scagnoli serving as audio engineer, Smusz as videographer and video editor, Wiley as photographer and Ethan St. Germain as video editor.
“We understood the bounds of working together because we’re great friends, and we were having all our other friends and students as support,” Wiley said. “It was just finding out that we all had these different skills like audio mixing, photography and video editing.”
Smusz said this experience has provided a spark of confidence and hope for the seniors as they prepare to take the next step in their career as performers.
“We’re all seniors now, and we all agree that when we do something student-led and created, it's one of the most fulfilling things,” Smusz said. “This has been special for me, and I’m so grateful and fortunate that when a lot of theatres are dark and it's not easy to get a group of people together, here we are.”
CORRECTION: Justin Smusz's name was misspelled in a previous version of this article.