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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

Virtual Fall, Real Performances by Shuli J. '22, MEng '23

coming soon to a zoom very near you!

I’ve mentioned briefly on this blog before that I’m part of a cappella group, the Asymptones (tagline: “we sing fun and nerdy music!”). We had some really, really awesome repertoire planned for last spring, and it all got left behind when we moved out and stopped rehearsing together. We did record one song we already knew, but didn’t do much beyond that; it’s very difficult to learn new music over Zoom and there were a lot of other stressful things in everyone’s lives at the time, so all our rep was laid aside for months and months. Now it’s the fall, and we are trying to get back on our game, fulfill our club mandate, and have fun together again!

One of my friends is in the Shakespeare ensemble, and they too weren’t able to finish their (pretty much fully completed and ready D:) production of the Merry Wives of Windsor. She gave me the idea of writing a blog about what all the different performance groups on campus are doing this virtual semester. I loved that idea because I think one of the most underrated things about MIT is the huge variety of performing groups we have, and how big of a performing arts scene there is on campus. Other bloggers have written about this before, but these are uNpReCeDeNtEd times and therefore our events must also be uNpReCeDeNtEd. So without further ado, here is just a sampling of the events happening this fall on campus!

(OK, I lied, here’s a small amount of ado: an important caveat is that, of course, I didn’t get to talk to every single performing group at MIT for this blog. There is undoubtedly much more happening than I can impart to you in one post. If you are a current MIT student reading this and are heartbroken that your group isn’t mentioned, email me :)

The Shakespeare Ensemble is putting on a virtual audio play of Macbeth! Their typical-semester plays involve, of course, tons of work on set design, props and costumes, lighting and blocking… But an audio play requires plenty of work of its own. They recruited a whole new team of students as their sound editors and are working hard to make sure all their actors have the equipment they need to record. Because the play will be pre-recorded, they can record in scenes as they go rather than doing it all at the end, which speeds up their production timeline. And that means they can move their release date to… 🎃Halloween🎃 Spooooooky. (Psst, current students: they’re still recruiting for production staff.)

The Musical Theater Guild is doing a virtual play of The Theory of Relativity, a musical about the lives of a bunch college-aged kids. It’s a song cycle that mostly has solos and duets, rather than the large-ensemble musicals they often perform, so that they’ll be able to record video as well as audio. Their timeline is offset from the Ensemble’s, so they just finished recruiting directorial staff and are starting auditions now. The Ensemble ran their auditions over Zoom and found that it was actually very successful; it was less intimidating for auditioners and easier to connect. MTG is doing theirs asynchronously by asking auditioners to submit videos of themselves.

Lots of different a cappella groups — including the Asymptones, the Muses, and Syncopasian — are recording some of their repertoire into individual videos, which will be available on YouTube (and probably pubbed on every social media platform you know of). Usually, the end of the semester is packed full with one group after another putting on concerts showcasing all the songs they’ve learned in the past few months. This semester, my guess is that performances will be more evenly distributed as groups finish recording and editing each song.

Some groups are also holding workshops on different parts of a cappella, like percussion & beatboxing, arranging music, and soloing, that are open both to their members and to MIT students in general!

Next Sing, MIT’s newest a cappella group, was created to be a more open, inclusive, and low-commitment a cappella group. They typically perform a wide range of songs, and although they have do auditions, they believe that anyone can learn to sing and perform. This semester, they’re using an “open cover” system: anyone who’s interested can lead a cover of a song or audition to be part of one. Each cover lead will work to organize rehearsal and filming for their covers, and then the executive will mix them together to be released.

The Chorallaries are also recording videos, but they’ll be releasing them all at the same time at the end of the semester, as a mini-concert! They’re also running a separate recording project, open to all undergrads, to make something Big. Details to come :000

The Ballroom Dance Team usually goes to (and kicks butt at) in-person competitions all over New England. They’re taking this semester as a time to step back from competing and focus on learning and connecting as a group. That means social events, virtual solo dance practices, and classes open to everyone at MIT! They have weekend yoga, morning workouts, and beginner dance classes!!

One of the common threads that each group mentioned to me was their desire to keep their members connected, and to bring new members (particularly new freshmen) into the fold. Everyone is planning movie nights, workshops, office hours, and all kinds of social events for their group and for the greater MIT community.

I also noticed that a lot of groups were finding what silver lining they could in this very dark cloud, and using the changes we’ve been forced into to reflect on what positive changes they could make to their organization at the same time. The Ballroom Dance Team is focusing on bringing their community closer together. The Shakespeare Ensemble, spurred on by the protests and murders of black people this summer, are working on inclusivity in both their cast and their productions. Syncopasian is collaborating with other groups on campus, like the Asian Dance Team, for the videos they plan to put out. None of these are happening specifically because we’re virtual, but without the upheaval we experienced, they would not have come to pass.

I’ve felt tired a lot recently, and alternately apathetic and sad about the semester and the weeks to come. But talking to these groups got me excited again, like how so many days on campus used to feel. I want to see Synco’s collab with ADT! and listen to Macbeth on Halloween! and see the Chorallaries’ big secret project! It warms my heart to think of all the art being created right now, across so many miles and screens, and imagine the joy it will bring to its creators and its audience (that’s me! and you!). If this is the sort of thing that warms your heart too, then here — take it with you, like a hot mug of tea, to hold as the weather gets cold. <3