Living Gallery has become not just a BJU but a Greenville community Easter tradition. The tableau vivant presentation was notably missed when it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So it is with great delight that BJU and the Museum & Gallery invite the greater Greenville community to the 2021 presentation of Living Gallery: “A New Creation” on April 1–3. But all has not yet returned to normal for cast, choir, crew or audience.
Tickets and more information for the five performances are available at livinggallery.bju.edu.
Changes in Rehearsals
Rehearsals for the 2021 production of Living Gallery began in 2019. Though the cast may have been given more time to work on their roles, they’ve also been given greater challenges. On top of the COVID-19 concerns, there were less than three weeks between the final curtain of A Tale of Two Cities and the opening night of Living Gallery.
“I worked with Dr. Lawson, and he was telling me about procedures that were in place for him for A Tale of Two Cities,” said director Anne Nolan. “They have testing on Monday, and once they were done with A Tale of Two Cities, it would just pick back up with us.”
Two of the cast members were also involved in the musical — senior Kate Jones who plays the younger Kate Michelson (with her mother Erin Jones playing the older Kate Michelson) and junior Karie Jensen who plays Jillian Koch. “From the time A Tale of Two Cities ended to now, we only had about two and a half weeks to reconvene and do tech after almost a month off,” said Jones. “We rehearsed in face shields until they had to mic us, and we started weekly testing, but there are only six of us in the drama portion, so thankfully there hasn’t been much chance for exposure.”
Jensen, who was the assistant director for the musical, said that “rereading the (Living Gallery) script was like reconnecting with an old friend.” Though she put away her script in March 2020 and didn’t pick it up again until the fall, she said, “I think having an extra year to settle into the choices that I had made for my character was a surprising benefit of COVID.”
Alterations in Makeup
Living Gallery requires more detailed makeup artistry than other productions because the artists are painting the models to match the artwork. In order to keep everyone safe from COVID-19, the makeup and costume department is making some adjustments to their procedures.
“My plan is to continue the masks and the shields,” said Dan Sandy, head of the makeup and costume department. “And with pieces that have a single color or a very simple approach, actors are going to be able to put on that base color, and they’re going to have (a tool) that is theirs. They’re not sharing.”
Application stations are separated by works of art. Nine paintings in the show equal nine workstations with four artists per workstation. With over 40 models in Living Gallery this year, Sandy is limiting the number of people in the room at a time to only those currently in the chairs and the artists. “If there are more people in the piece, those people would have to wait for a few minutes and then come on in,” he said.
In addition, the makeup team will be washing brushes more frequently. “But we have a good brush cleaner,” said Sandy. “We have several good brush cleaners. And we’ll have to make that process happen.” Because the cleaning of brushes will be so time-consuming for this production, Sandy said he may assign a crew member to that job alone for larger pieces.
Transitions in Music
Unlike A Tale of Two Cities, the music for Living Gallery will be pre-recorded. “My very favorite way to do it is to combine live with recorded orchestra, choir, whatever we need, and then put a dozen musicians in the pit,” said Dr. Kenon Renfrow, music producer for Living Gallery since 2006.
“Sometimes because of staging considerations or because of COVID, we have to do different things, and it was a lot of years ago that we did the first recorded one. I’ll never forget Dr. Gustafson right on the sidewalk out here. He got right in my personal space like he liked to do, and he said, ‘That just goes to show what all we’ve been missing.’ ”
Recording music ahead of time gives Renfrow flexibility in adjusting the sound to fit the needs of the production. “We’re able to do theatrical, more surround sound-type things than we can do if we’re trying to mic a violin,” he said. For example, the chorus of one of the last numbers in this year’s production will be sung in a congregational style. Not only has the choir sung it in unison, but the chorus will also be played in Rodeheaver Auditorium’s surround sound speakers, giving the audience the illusion that they are in the midst of a singing congregation.
Renfrow added that the production crew loves using recorded music “because every time they play this recording, it’s going to be exactly the same. Timing-wise, everything. They cue the lights with it, everything.”
In order to protect the vocalists from potentially spreading COVID-19, Renfrow chose from those who were members of the cast of A Tale of Two Cities. “I chose people who were already in A Tale of Two Cities because they were being tested twice a week,” he said. Because the musical closed as Living Gallery rehearsals began, the vocalists were able to transition from one to the next without any time lapsing between their test dates. As a result, they could safely sing together without distancing. Said Renfrow: “That was a consideration because how are you going to have three people on one microphone if they can’t sing together? And so that’s what we did. It seems to have worked.”
In spite of the changes that each facet of Living Gallery has seen this year, Renfrow said, “The message is the thing, that’s what we’re trying to do. … That’s our motivation. You can get to people in a different way when you combine the elements of the drama — which is a really good one this year — and the artwork and the music.”