October 22, 2021

Behind ‘Raise Your Voice’

SUNY Cortland’s new show coming March 27

Photo provided by Carlita Withers

Ann Ross, left Christian Deas, Justin Waite, Sophia Rissi and Kyle Rivera, rehearse a dance number in a show created by Kevin Halpin and Jacob Carll, “Raise Your Voice.” Halpin and Carll collaborated with students.

SUNY Cortland’s latest show is more risky for actor Kyle Rivera.

“We’re not a character,” Rivera said of the virtual musical revue students are working on. “It means more. It’s our interpretation of each topic … There’s a lot more at stake for us. There’s no hiding behind a character in the show. This is us.”

“Raise Your Voice: A Call to Social Action” will be released March 27. People can access the virtual show on the performing arts department website and look for updates on its Facebook and Instagram sites.

“We’re trying to figure out how to do a release officially,” said Kevin Halpin, director and choreographer. He created the piece with Jacob Carll, musical director, who also did the arrangements.

The show, with a cast of 12, is a combination of poetry, prose, rock and musical theater on a range of current social issues.

“We always wanted this to be a collaborative effort … when we started the process, we came up with a song list of what we thought would be appropriate. And text. And prose,” Halpin said.

During videotape auditions, performers chose what from the song list spoke to them, Halpin said.

“As we were working on it, things that they did not respond to, we didn’t include. They have been a strong part of the collaboration part,” Halpin said. “We altered text, based on their input and ideas.”

“One of the greatest responsibilities of the artist in society is to hold up a mirror to society. Here is what we are. What can we change. What can we do better. This is to encourage young people to stand up for what they believe in and make challenges. To have a voice and use it,” Halpin said.

Some of the songs in the piece are “Raise your Voice” from the musical “Sister Act,” the pop song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and Carole King.

“I won’t lie, not that it hasn’t been challenging. It’s going well,” Halpin said. “Students brought such good ideas. They are working hard. It’s exciting to see ideas Jacob Carll and I had come together, to have shape and impact.”

Students will stage the show in masks, socially distanced. They were to start filming March 4.

Ideas hitting hard

Dominic Green, a sophomore musical theater major, is part of a love medley in the show and will do a poem, “I Too” by Langston Hughes and “Make Them Hear You” from the musical, “Rag Time.”

“After reading them, they resonated with me … especially with being a black man in America,” he said.

He said it’s frustrating to see people ignore issues of Black people and people of color. That’s the issue hitting him in the piece, “Even though it’s blatantly in their face, 100 percent of the time.”

Lauren Cochran, a sophomore, is singing “Unruly Heart” from “The Prom.” She’s part of the “Beautiful” medley featuring Christine Aguilera and Carole King.

She’s interested in women’s empowerment and some monologues feature that.

“Mine is about how women can’t be the breadwinner in the relationship with men,” Cochran said. “That’s threatening to them.”

Photo provided by Carlita Withers

Ruben Fernandez in a scene from SUNY Cortland’s “Raise Your Voice: A Call to Social Action.”

Rivera is doing “Until We Could” by Richard Blanco and a duet with Cochran, “Our Children.”

He is especially interested in love equality among the gay and surrounding community.

“We still have discrimination against people in the LGBTQ community. I have had that with me. With the monologue and love sequence, I want to show how hard we have fought, just to love. We want to be looked at as normal people, not different.”

JoDee Hall, a senior, has a solo on racial injustice and is also part of women’s empowerment segment.

“I like it. It’s been an interesting experience. It’s a show that didn’t have a concrete concept when we got it,” Hall said. “We are building it as we go … It’s been a great learning process.”

Staging a show during a pandemic

College officials spent a lot of time figuring out how to keep students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We got shut down last year,” Halpin said. “It was important for us to find a way for students to have performance opportunities. What would be the way we could create something flexible enough to be all virtual, or for a small audience.”

The show will be all virtual, Halpin said.

Mark Reynolds, costume director, is the new COVID compliance officer and researched what other theaters have been doing.

“We set up social distance boxes,” he said. Boxes are taped on the floor that students must stay within while singing. The stage is marked off, too.

Photo provided by Carlita Withers

Justin Waite, left, Kyle Rivera and JoDee Hall, SUNY Cortland students, practice a piece from “Raise Your Voice: A Call to Social Action.”

“Students have gotten used to that. We talk about what protocols need to be in place,” he said.

“They have to be masked at all times and have to stay distanced at all times,” Halpin said. The department created special masks to accommodate the singing.

Students have to move a certain way, finding a clear path, on stage so people don’t run into each other.

There can’t be any crowding backstage, Halpin said.

“Our students are tested twice a week, we are together so much,” Halpin said.

On stage again

“Now we will be filming, and more people will come into the bubble,” Halpin said March 3.

Musical and vocal tracks are being made for consistency on film. Music will play in their ears as they sing and dance on film. They will use three cameras to capture the action.

And yes, there will be choreography. “It’s in there,” said Halpin, although different than the way Halpin usually works.

“My style tends to involve a lot of bodies and strategic interweaving and patterns,” he said. “And lots of close, tight pictures. In this environment, that’s not possible.”

Students say face mask use and the social distancing has been their challenge.

Hall, a senior, knows how much fun SUNY Cortland is without COVID-19.

“Last year, it bummed me out,” she said. Long days of virtual classes can be difficult. She misses the audience participation in theater.

Photo provided by Carlita Withers

Christian Deas, left, and Kyle Rivera.

Rivera who transferred to the school is happy to perform in class, even if it’s in front of peers and teachers. “It’s still performing,” he said, and it takes every skill he has.

“Now we have to use everything,” Rivera said. Every movement, gesture and note conveys a message, Rivera said.

“You can’t see our faces,” Hall said, so inflection is important. “That’s the one thing the audiences uses (to pick up emotion).”

But at least it’s on stage, Cochran said.

“It’s been so long since we have performed,” Cochran said. “It’s great to be able to rehearse. The rehearsal part is the fun part.”