Once upon a time there was a show….
Singarama 2022: Storytime offered the perfect bookend for the Class of 2022
Janel Shoun-Smith |
Once upon a time, there was a little musical show that lived large in the memories of generations of Lipscomb University students for almost 60 years. It was called Singarama.
Singarama has changed over the years. In 1966 there were two performances in one year; then no performance at all in 1967. Some performances were held without props or choreography. Some years Singarama had no overall theme. The student-produced musical show has survived structure changes, schedule changes, leadership changes and requirements for the show to earn points.
Then in 2020, it faced one of its biggest challenges yet… the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the last-minute cancellation of the 2020 show, 20/20 Vision, and the video streaming rather than live performance, The Human Condition, in 2021.
While students of Lipscomb were disappointed, you just can’t keep a Lipscomb Bison down!
In 2022, more than 200 undergraduates are once again taking part in the musical variety show that consumes the lives of students throughout March, this year with the theme: Storytime.
As the new year dawned, the 2022 Singarama directors and their core student leadership teams were planning, writing, plotting and recruiting to stage their three shows: Mystery, History and Fairy Tale.
It wasn’t easy getting to the stage this year. Singarama has long served as a milestone experience for Lipscomb students building their social foundation in college. All students are invited to participate, and new pledges to the 10 social clubs are highly encouraged, or sometimes required, to participate. But in 2022, half of the student body has never experienced a full-fledged Singarama from beginning to end, due to Covid restrictions the past two years.
In 2021 all performers had to wear masks on stage for the video streamed performance, the numbers of students allowed on stage for each dance number was slashed and rehearsals had to take place in cohorts of smaller groups, which made preparation take longer overall, said Nate Pearce, senior and a fourth-time Singarama veteran who co-directed Fairy Tale (Theta Psi, Phi Sigma, Gamma Lamda and Friends) in 2022.
“The biggest challenge overall is getting people excited and wanting to be involved again after Covid,” said Shelby Bratcher, junior and co-director of Mystery (Kappa Chi, Pi Delta, Tau Phi, Sigma Alpha and friends). “And it is such a huge time commitment.”
“It is kind of hard to get everybody to understand everything because only the seniors have seen a real Singarama,” said senior and History (Delta Omega, Sigma Iota Delta, Phi Nu and friends) director Mallory Nunley in early March. “Some people didn’t even realize it was a competition and that we get points for certain things.”
The competitive points remain the same as years before. Each show is required to have eight songs, with half lasting at least one minute and half lasting at least one-and-a-half minutes. Each show is required to have an opening dance number, a closing dance number, a guys’ dance, a girls’ dance and a couples dance.
This year brought the return of a packed stage for “opener” and “closer,” with at least 25 people and no more than 100 people on stage for the group numbers. Each show must be no more than 25 minutes long.
“One thing the newcomers will definitely have to navigate is the time limit,” said Nunley. “They only have a couple minutes to change back stage if their main character is in two scenes in a row. It is stressful at the time, but then really fun afterwards.”
Even in the last few weeks of fall semester, the social clubs began discussing the 2022 show, said Bratcher. Just before Christmas break, the teams were randomly assigned their themes by each drawing one of the words from a bowl. Then as soon as spring semester started, the core student leadership team – directors, assistant directors, writers, choreographers and vocal coaches – started brainstorming ideas for their show themes and the types of songs they wanted to include.
The Mystery team, chose a dinner party murder mystery because “it was an easy way to tell the story, it would fit within 20 minutes, it utilizes a lot of people and is easy to understand,” said Bratcher. The co-director of Mystery is Elli Miller.
Whereas Fairy Tale’s Pearce said his show about a brother and sister transported to a fairy tale world while he is trying to write his college entrance essay “has the perfect amount of Singarama cheese.”
“You have to make it at least a little bit cheesy. It’s always a little bit of an eye-roll. It needs a nice lesson to learn, and you have to make it fun. If you aren’t having fun on stage, the people watching probably aren’t enjoying it much.
“If you are not having fun with Singarama, then you are doing something wrong,” said Pearce, who has been dubbed “Singapapa” by his social club because of his enthusiasm for the show. Fairy Tale’s co-director is Erin Bell.
The History team passed over major historical world events for their plot and instead drew from a smaller, but certainly attention-grabbing, piece of history: an art heist. Inspired by the Netflix documentary This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist, about the 1990 robbery of the Gardner Museum in Boston.
“I’m trying to make the script as funny as possible, and to include jokes that can be understood by everyone, not just my peers,” said Nunley.
The musical portion of Singarama still includes popular songs from a wide range of decades. The 2022 show include oldies, and not so oldies, like “A Night to Remember” from High School Musical 3, James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl” and Blondie’s “One Way or Another.”
So just how do these students know all these old songs? Bratcher said her team heard “I Feel Good” on an aspirin commercial.
“One song is ‘Thriller.’ Everyone just knows that,” she said. “There are songs you learn from your parents or you hear them in stores. We hear them in Karaoke or the game, Just Dance. Those you know for sure are danceable.”
While January is made up mostly of planning and writing, February brings casting, as that is the month the social clubs accept new freshman members. The directors held auditions for some of the more complicated dances (like the couples dance with lots of flips and turns, according to Pearce) but, as is the tradition, accepted anyone and everyone who wanted to participate in the opener and closer.
Nunley, a film production major who wants to be a professional casting director, said she ended up casting a lot of freshmen and sophomores in speaking roles because she was “blown away” by their talent. “They work really well together as a cast, and I also went with mostly underclassmen so that in the next couple years directors will have people who know all of the ins and outs of how Singarama works,” she said.
During his auditions for speaking and singing roles, Pearce said he couldn’t count how many times he heard one student say to another, “I didn’t know you could sing!” which underscores the real fun behind Singarama: students getting to know and love one another.
“I would say that one thing that is special about Singarama is that there are so many people from all kinds of majors, clubs and experience levels coming together to make a show, which is something you would not be able to see anywhere else (on campus),” said Benjamin Meador, a freshman from Sigma Iota Delta who plays Sebastian in History.
Pearce joined Theta Psi in his freshman year, and the 2019 Singarama (Bring the Family) “was probably my favorite memory of college,” he said. “You make all these friends because you are rehearsing every night and making a fool of yourself learning these dances. There is just a lot of camaraderie, and everyone is there to have a good time.”
“One of the best parts about Singarama is that there are no real barriers to entry,” said Bratcher, a Pi Delta who participated in the 2020 and 2021 shows. “We are not looking for artistic talent requirements. We are just looking for the most enthusiastic,” Bratcher said.
“It is so fun to see people step out of their comfort zone to perform and use their talents, even if they have never been in a production before,” said Grace Anne Richardson, a junior and Pi Delta choreographer for Mystery.
She grew up dancing ballet and has been in Lipscomb’s Foundation Dance Theatre performances, but the 2022 show was her first Singarama. Talented dancers or not, “I'm excited to perform with all my Pi Delta sisters and our brother clubs,” she said. “It's really fun and entertaining to see everyone perform.”
“You don’t need to be a theater person to do Singarama,” echoed Pearce. “You don’t have to feel self-conscious if you can’t dance, because the dances aren’t hard. It emphasizes participation over talent. If you show up and give your all every day, that is more important to me than being able to break dance on stage.
“I think people were really excited, because the only ones who had done a full show were the seniors,” said Pearce, who is among the seniors himself. “It feels like a good bookend for our class. We started together and we finished together.”