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Interview With Doug MacDougall

Last month I was lucky enough to be a part of Sleeping Beauty: Every Rose Has Its Thorne.

This virtual pantomime written and directed by Doug MacDougall, premiered this December as a fundraiser for Food Banks Canada and Feeding America.

After the show finished its run, Doug agreed to join me for a little chat about the show itself, creating theatre for the virtual stage, and of course, what’s next.

When was the show written and what inspired it?

The show was written during the COVID-19 lockdown, so starting back in March 2020.

I had attended an online workshop where the presenter spoke about artists creating their own original content in the absence of actual acting jobs, other job offers or opportunities.

I had always wanted to create my own original script and had experience not only as an actor, but as a stage and musical director for a number of traditional English pantomimes over the last few years.

For anyone in your audience not familiar with pantomimes, they are a long-hailed Christmas tradition which originated around the turn of the last century in England.

It’s like a musical comedy based on a classic fairytale with heroes, villains, lively word play, puns, and audience participation.

The inspiration for the show was my fascination with classic fairytales, fantasy-inspired TV and film (Once Upon A Time, Game of Thrones), and I also wanted this script to be an homage to classic TV and game shows, with taglines that resonate with the audiences.

When did you decide to put the show on virtually?

Back last summer, I was involved with a number of online virtual productions from all across North America, where I learned a lot about the ins and outs, and technical demands of launching a virtual production online.

Most of them were table reads, and I thought “I can do one better than a table read, I want to do a full-blown production.” I knew this had to be done through Zoom, and I looked at different examples of how they used their music, costumes, props, and virtual backgrounds.

My associate director, Loren(Clough), who I’ve worked with over a number of years, and I decided to partner up and target the month of November for auditions, callbacks, rehearsals, and workshops.

What was the casting process like?

I created two separate job postings online at Backstage and Mandy, and received well over one hundred applications which was phenomenal. From there I actually got it down to about fifty auditions.

We set up a full day of auditions in the middle of November on a Saturday morning and went to about six in the evening with applicants of all ages from across North America. We then scheduled callbacks the next day.

One of the crucial roles that needed to be cast was that of Dame Polly, a role that’s traditionally played by a man in drag.

(And DRAG, actually when you spell out the word, it stands for Dress Resembling A Girl, and that dates back to the Shakespearean tradition back in the Middle Ages.)

No one actually had applied to the role of Dame Polly, so I was getting a bit worried as it’s one of the crucial roles in play. So I asked a couple of potential actors to come out and audition, and we lucked out with an actor from Vancouver!

The other thing was finding the right chemistry for our love interests, Rose and Thorne, that was also really important to me. We were fortunate to cast experienced actors from Toronto and Montreal!

What were some of the biggest challenges of creating and presenting a virtual musical?

So, I’ve got quite a list here, I really gave it some thought, but they aren’t in any particular order:

  • Working with a large cast of characters.

  • Coordinating and scheduling rehearsals based on availability

  • (I was working with three separate time zones if you think about it, Eastern, Central, and Pacific, to make sure people were available and using breakout rooms.).

  • Synching up and editing musical numbers with a large number of voices, first time ever doing that.

  • Coming up against system crashes, reboots, hours of work lost in cyberspace while working with iMovie and Premiere Pro

  • (I’ve put a lot of things in place for next year so this won’t happen again)

  • Coordinating and using Zoom backgrounds to enhance the presentation.

  • Working with actors who were really tech savvy to the inexperienced in regards to self-taping, green screens, lighting, and virtual backgrounds.

  • Laying down the tracks for over twenty-five songs and one hundred and fifty sound effects!

Was there any part of the process which surprised you?

Oh, yes. The biggest surprise had to be the day when I put the whole show together from beginning to end and realized, before I knew it, I had a three hour feature film presentation! It just blew me away. I wasn’t expecting three hours, I was thinking maybe two hours, two and a half hours, but we got to three hours and it was like whoa!

Then deciding what scenes, and there were twenty three scenes, and what music (twenty-five songs), I could cut or edit to make it shorter. That was really challenging, because I really wanted to honour the work of each and every one of the actors involved, and I did not cut a single thing. In the end, I left the project completely intact.

I was also not only surprised, but grateful for the outpouring of donations for Food Banks Canada and Feeding America. In less than one month’s time, we managed to raise over $2200, which was phenomenal. Looking back, that was such a great surprise.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

In retrospect, we will definitely start the process earlier in November next year, maybe even late October just around Halloween-time, and a script that’s considerably shorter in length with fewer scenes and fewer songs. Right now, as we speak, I’ve got it down to about fifteen songs instead of twenty-five, so I’m thinking that’s more manageable. We’re aiming for a two hour show with maybe a fifteen minute intermission, which I think would be a much more manageable thing to put together.

What’s next?

I’m still actively trying to get people to see the talented work of this current show that we have. Our audience back in December was really limited, as only those who registered saw it. So I’ve decided to launch it in a weekly web series on YouTube for the next several weeks; episode two dropped today, which is great! That might keep the momentum going and keep people coming back for more, because they’ll want to know what’s going to happen next. I’m only dropping about 2-3 scenes per week so hopefully that will build some interest.

As for next year’s production, I’m already hard at work creating the next pantomime based on Cinderella. It’s called Cinderella: If The Shoe Fits, which will feature characters, situations, and popular music not necessarily associated with this classic fairytale, which will certainly resonate with audiences of all ages.

A bit more of a teaser: my two ugly stepsisters will be two men in drag, my fairy godmother will also be the Dame, it will also feature fairies in training and a whole slew of Disney princesses and princes.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s my first time actually putting something like this together. It was my first experience, it was a great experience, a big learning curve, and I definitely want to do something like this again in the future. As you can see, I’m busy at work putting something together right now.

I’m thinking that if this process goes really fast, last year it took me from March to maybe September to put this together, but now I’ve got one under my belt, I might actually have this one ready and maybe have a couple other ones in the wings ready to go as well.

Once you get in the zone and you’re writing and the creative juices are flowing… I just can’t stop sometimes!

Wondering where you can stay tuned about Sleeping Beauty and upcoming virtual events?

Linked below are the show’s Facebook page, Doug’s Instagram, and of course, the first two pieces of the full show which have been released on YouTube!

(If you subscribe to his channel, you’ll be notified when each new episode is released!)

Thank you, Doug for joining me here on Both Sides of the Curtain, and for adding a highlight to my holiday season!

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