Behind the Scenes of Click to Connect: a EUSOG Musical

At the end of last semester, the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group (EUSOG) released an original musical – Click to Connect. Created entirely online, the show follows eight people on the search for socially distanced love. Ahead of their cast album being released later this semester, I sat down with Rachel Chung (co-writer, co-director) and Alice Jackson (co-writer, co-producer), to talk through the project.

Initially the production team was brought together in the hope of putting on an in-person production of A Chorus Line. However, Alice tells me, “we found out we couldn’t do [that show] in early August. So, in a very short amount of time, the [writers] sat down and put together this idea, divided it up, created these storylines, created these characters, and we came back and we went to EUSOG and said ‘we’ve written something,’ and they went ‘we really love it,’ and that was how it all came about.”

Both Rachel and Alice came to the project with some script-writing experience. Rachel explains: “our backgrounds as sketch writers are reflected in the way that the play came out. Once we had decided to do something feature-length, we knew that it wasn’t going to be feasible to write in the traditional way, so we divided it up into episodes, like a dramatic sketch medley.”

Alice explains that she poured a lot of herself into the characters of George (Sebastian Schneeberger) and Sadie (Rachel Cozens), whose storyline she co-wrote with Olivia Johnston (co-writer, co-producer). I asked whether any of the storylines were based on real life. Rachel points out that a lot of the storylines in Click to Connect are about queerness and coming-of-age. “A huge fraction of the writing team is queer, and even today with all of the resources that our generation has, coming out and entering into those first queer relationships can still be really traumatic and really difficult. Our memories of doing that as slightly younger people came out a lot in the ways we unfolded these plots.”

We talk a little about the story of Sam (Nicola Alexander) and Amy (Lucy Whelan), a favourite of Alice’s, because of how it draws on themes of how in today’s society “being queer seems like everyone’s business except your own.” Sam and Amy’s first scene also comes with a song – Waiting Room – written and orchestrated by Hannah McGregor (co-writer, co-director) and Maddy Baron (musical director). Alice reflects on her reaction the first time she heard the show’s songs and remembers being blown away by “the level of talent that [McGregor and Baron] have, and how much they pushed themselves, and how much they were striving for excellence.”

The diversity of the cast and crew is clearly a source of great pride for both Alice and Rachel. Alice explains how “as a queer production team, as an all-female production team, we were very interested in making our production as diverse as possible, and our cast as diverse as possible.” Rachel adds that “that was one of the major benefits to doing [the show online]. We were able to work with people who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come audition in person, or who come across differently in person as actors. We were able to cast people who were a little bit shy, or not as experienced, and bring the natural talent out of people in ways we don’t get to do a lot in live theatre.”

From a director’s perspective, Rachel explains that working on Zoom did present some challenges. It was harder to build a rapport with the cast, and to get a feel for how they were finding the rehearsal process – the actors would do a lot of preparation for their scenes in between rehearsals, rather than making those new discoveries in person. Special credit, Alice says, should be given to Attar Basri (Tom) and Kristen Wong (Mia), who always showed up ready to work despite wildly different time-zones, attending rehearsals at 4am local time.

Aware that the team did not have all the skills to entirely assemble a project of this proportion, Alice tells me they reached out to EUTV. The sheer scale of the technical skills involved required outside help, and EUTV were keen to collaborate and work towards the final project.

When faced with filming, Alice explains how the responsibility fell to the show’s Production Manager, Jacob Henney, to deliver cameras and recording equipment to the cast members in Edinburgh, in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines. For cast members elsewhere, the team worked together to source equipment locally to them. The whole process was not without its difficulties. Alice tells me about how the team realised that some of the video footage had no sound, leading to a “very, very stressful week reshooting about fifteen scenes.”

Rachel and Alice are very aware that the production of Click to Connect was something completely new for the Edinburgh University theatre community. “Jacob invented a working style and a methodology that didn’t exist before this started,” says Rachel, who also explains that she got married during the first week of filming – “the week of the wedding, I was sitting at the breakfast table, in my wedding dress, checking in on recording.”

On the practical side, Rachel explains that a big learning curve for the whole team was “how to adjust our writing style and dialogue to match each other.” She also explains that normally she tries not to direct pieces she’s written herself, so over the course of the project has learnt more about “how to keep that distance between what I had written, and working with the actors.”

Alice is more sentimental. “I wish we’d had longer to work on the show,” she tells me. But, in retrospect, she says that the project has taught her a lot about what she’s capable of. “I describe the production to people, and I hear myself talk, and I think about what we accomplished as a team, and I think about how much effort, and hard work, and love was put into this project and honestly, even if we’d been negatively reviewed, I would have still loved it with every fibre of my being.”

The cast recording of Click to Connect will be released this semester, as well as a buy-to-keep recording of the entire show. Keep an eye on @eusogy on Instagram or @eusavoy on Facebook for more information.

Image: EUSOG ‘Click to Connect’