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Life & Arts

'I Have To Do This Right Now': 'Human Resources: The Musical' Makes Its World Premiere Online

Logo for 'Human Resources: The Musical'
Design by Kaci Beeler

Human Resources: The Musical wasn’t originally supposed to be a streaming show; it’s a full-scale musical production with choreography and songs and set design and a cast and crew of nearly 30 people, and it was created to be a performed for a live audience. But it’s also premiering in 2020, so it’s going be performed online instead of on a stage.

Creator Mallory Schlossberg says the idea for Human Resources predates the pandemic by nearly a year. “I had the idea for this [in] March of 2019,” Schlossberg says. “I wrote the very first song and created this character, the protagonist… and knew basically the story I wanted to tell and that it was important. And then I sort of dropped it and kept talking about it, and I would bounce ideas off of people. But then in lockdown I was hit with the impulse of ‘I have to do this right now, I can’t sit around and wait any longer.’”

The show she created is a sort of campy, dark comedy musical horror story, and Schlossberg says that heightened-reality style of comedy was the best way to address something that she sees as a very real-world issue. “I have felt for a long time that women are presented with a false binary by the corporate world: you either get to work [or] get to be a mother. It’s very systemic,” she says. “And then I also was thinking about a lot of companies that I had friends that had worked for [and] stories I had heard about a lot of really odd behaviors. And when I kind of put the whole piece together, I realized that there was a bigger pattern. And I really wanted to tell the story but I knew the only way to tell it was to make it as campy and out-of-this-world as possible.”

Schlossberg is careful to avoid any spoilers for the musical, but gives a few hints as to where the plot leads. “In our show, I don’t want to spoil it, but what happens to mothers is pretty dire,” she says with a laugh. “There’s pregnant women that mysteriously go missing. Why? I can’t spoil it but it is a metaphor for all of that.”

Despite the dark humor that drives Human Resources, Schlossberg says she’s heavily influenced by Disney musicals, a love for which she shares with composer and musical director Alexandra Smith. “Yes, Mallory and I have a lot of the same musical tastes,” Smith says. “Just that love of classic Disney music, that really nice Renaissance period from the late ‘80s to the early 2000s. So a lot of that influence is definitely coming through in our songs.”

Since work on Human Resources began in 2019, it was conceived as a stage show and some changes have been necessary to make the musical a little more streaming-friendly. “We have a choreographer, Kelly Hasandras… and her choreography, for example, is like waist-up,” Schlossberg says. “Sometimes she’ll get a high kick in there. But it’s like adapting that kind of stuff. Green screens, digital designs for backgrounds.”

But the biggest challenge to producing a live streaming musical is, not surprisingly, the music itself. Smith says that learning and rehearsing songs over zoom is less than ideal. “I think that was a huge challenge for all of these actors, to have to learn their music almost on their own,” she says. She’s been composing music and participating in rehearsals via zoom from Arkansas. ”I’m not even in Austin, so I can’t even find a socially-distanced way to coach. It all has to be virtual. And coaching music virtually is a challenge.”

Since playing music via zoom is notoriously tricky (there are often slight lags, and audio quality usually isn't top-notch) the music for Human Resources will be pre-recorded and lip-synced. Everything else in the show, though, will happen live. “Nothing is pre-recorded visually,” Schlossberg says. “It’s important for us to retain that element of theater, of live reactions, reacting to things in real time, having those real moments, and keeping the performance as live as possible.”

Schlossberg says that creating a full-scale musical remotely has meant that everyone involved has had to learn new skills; actors are becoming recording engineers, prop masters, and set designers as needed. And Schlossberg is grateful for all of that hard work. “I just want to underscore how flexible, adaptable, and hardworking the whole team is,” she says. “The cast, the crew, everyone. There’s a lot of learning on the fly. I just want to be on the record to say that I couldn’t ask for a better creative collaborator and team. I just want to be on the record to say that!”

'Human Resources: The Musical' will be performed live at humanresourcesmusical.com on December 4, 5, 11, and 12.

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