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Out & About: Randolph student theater company overcomes disaster with all-audio ‘Titanic’ musical

  • Jay Swartz in character and costume as Frederick Fleet, Titanic's lookout, aboard Shelburne Museum's steamship Ticonderoga. Image by Bob Eddy. Image by Bob Eddy

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/7/2021 9:29:16 PM
Modified: 4/7/2021 9:29:13 PM

RANDOLPH — The students in Randolph Union Middle/High School’s theater program, Encore Theater Company, wanted to perform a spring musical.

“Going into this year I wasn’t actually anticipating having a theater program,” said Xavier Olmstead, a senior. “I expected COVID wouldn’t allow us to do any work.”

While the theater group had performed a virtual radio play last fall, a musical would be a whole new challenge.

At first, this seemed like a tall order during the COVID-19 pandemic. The school is using the stage area as classroom space to better accommodate social distancing and other protocols. So Randolph Union teachers Brian Rainville and Jennifer Moore put their heads together to think of how the department could do a virtual, audio-only production.

“The kids were really clear: They’ve lost a lot,” Rainville said. “It was really clear talking with them that they wanted a musical.”

The result of that effort — which included students, alumni and community members — will come to fruition April 12 to 15 when people can stream their production of Titanic: The Musical for $9. All proceeds will benefit youth theater programs.

The link to the show, which will be available for 48 hours after a ticket is purchased, can be found at

“I think it’s really nice. I personally don’t care if it’s a musical or just a show,” Olmstead said. “I just like interacting with everyone there and building all those relationships. It’s such a great community.”

How they got to that point is a story in and of itself. It involved finding the right show, recruiting alumni from around the country and then pulling it all together.

How do you perform a musical without the sets, costumes and props that sometimes feel just as much part of the show as the writing and music?

“Consensus was Titanic stood on its own,” Rainville said. “The score and script were strong enough.”

There were challenges, such as finding a way to perform and record the score, because it was not safe to gather an orchestra together. On a whim, Rainville reached out to Mat Eisenstein, Titanic’s original Broadway pianist, who played and recorded the tracks in his living room for them.

“The kids and I were so moved because this project could have — and we knew this going in — this entire project could have gone off the rails at so many points,” Rainville said.

A virtual rehearsal schedule that would work for all time zones where alumni lived was created. The Shelburne Museum’s Ticonderoga steamship was offered up for publicity photos. Students who usually took on tech roles, including Olmstead, pivoted to acting.

“I wasn’t expecting to have as many speaking lines and I did, and do as much acting as I was doing,” said Olmstead, who plays the role of Irish emigrant and narrator Jim Farrell. While memorizing lines was stressful at times, “it was mostly fun.”

The speaking parts were recorded over Google Meet, so the actors could play off each other’s lines.

The singing was more challenging. Over video chat, groups singing is nearly impossible as the loudest voice blocks out all the rest. So the players sang their parts separately and audio engineer Vincent Freeman, of Randolph’s Underground Studio, layered them all together to create each track.

“How many times can amazing people support the work that your kids are doing?” Rainville asked. “This has been so moving because no one looked at us and said, ‘Hey guys, you’re out of your league there.’ Everyone said, ‘Yeah, we want to help you do this.’ ”

The show cost around $5,000 to put together and involved more than 35 people.

“The collaboration, the problem solving, the teamwork, the support of each other was magnificent,” Rainville said.

And it provided kids with a bright spot in what has been a challenging year.

“I think it is as important for a student committed to the arts to be able to sing, to be able to dance, to be able to act as it is as vital for a soccer player,” Rainville said. “This is part of young people’s identities that we need to recognize and celebrate and make sure there are opportunities.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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