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November 13, 2020
MFA Musical Theatre students filming "Chess: In Concert." (Photo by Robert Meffe)
MFA Musical Theatre students filming "Chess: In Concert." (Photo by Robert Meffe)

November 13, 2020

Featuring over 100 San Diego State University students, the musical production Chess: In Concert will be available for digital streaming from Dec. 3 through Dec. 6, 2020.

In this rock musical, the ancient game of chess becomes a metaphor for romantic rivalries, competitive gamesmanship, super-power politics, and international intrigues. Chess: In Concert is written by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, and Björn Ulvaeus and directed by Stephen Brotebeck.

Robert Meffe, Head of the Musical Theatre Program, says the subject matter of the show touches on political intrigue and asks the question “What does it mean to love your country, but oppose how it is led?”

Due to the pandemic, new and innovative strategies were implemented to allow safe collaboration while still following SDSU and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The production is filmed live with eight actors on the Don Powell Theatre stage while ensemble members from the SDSU Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir will individually film their material through audio and video recordings. This footage will be combined to create a monumental production which will be recorded and streamed by television and film students.

The principal cast features MFA Musical Theatre graduate students whose collective work spans Broadway, international, regional, and local productions. The 2022 class includes Julio Catano, Victoria Fowler, Kyle Montgomery, Casey Craig, Christopher Shin, Clinton Sherwood, Sheldon Gomabon, and Melissa Glasgow.

“Producing a show of this scale during a pandemic has been a challenge, but also wonderfully exciting,” Director Stephen Brotebeck says. “The collaborative spirit is high, and everyone involved is dedicated to creating the best piece of musical theatre that we can under these circumstances. It may look a little different, but we are eager to share the talents of our SDSU students with an even larger audience than normal, given that everyone can enjoy this production from the comfort and safety of their homes.”

Victoria Fowler, who starred as Elphaba in the National Tour of Wicked, plays Florence Vassy in the production. She says rehearsing for Chess: In Concert was “unconventional” but she and the other actors found a way to get creative.

“With the limited ability to be in the same room at the same time, we came up with creative ways of learning the music and working through acting beats on Zoom, both rehearsing live and recording things, and sending them to each other,” Fowler says. “It was then up to each actor individually to learn and rehearse their role so all the puzzle pieces fit once we could finally physically get together.”

Fowler says this way of rehearsing was successful, considering the newness of it all and, “in the end I think we came out with something we can be proud of that’s entertaining, beautiful, and innovative.”

Showings of Chess: In Concert are Thursday, Dec. 3, Friday, Dec. 4, and Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 6 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets, visit the SDSU School of Theatre, Television, and Film website. All tickets are $5.

As part of the Arts Alive SDSU Discovery Series, Chess: In Concert will also feature a free interdisciplinary panel discussion on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 2 p.m. The conversation will explore challenges that emerge when the individual values of citizens conflict with the dominant politics of their country, and the relationship between Cold War defections and current issues of immigration. Individuals may register to attend this free panel.

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