The Glenn Korff School of Music will present the world premiere of “The Real Gemma Jordan” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.
Admission to the film is free, but advanced reservations are required due to limited seating. Contact the Ross Box Office at 402-472-5353 or visit online to reserve tickets. Formal or cocktail attire is requested. The film is not rated, but there is adult language and inappropriate content for minors.
The Glenn Korff School of Music commissioned “The Real Gemma Jordan” by composer/lyricist Rob Rokicki (“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” “Monstersongs”) and screenwriter Anna Jacobs (“Pop!”, “Harmony”). It was created during the 2020-21 academic year, during the pandemic, and filmed in August 2021.
“I saw how Bill Shomos had his cast perform his fall 2020 opera outside. I was supposed to direct the February 2021 production, and I thought there is not a chance we could perform a production reliably outside in February,” said Alisa Belflower, coordinator of musical theatre studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Instead, Rokicki and Jacobs worked with students via Zoom during the spring to prepare for filming the new musical.
“I was trying to think of something that would be valuable on the students’ resumes when they leave and a valid learning experience for them,” Belflower said. “There aren’t many people with much more impressive credentials than Rob and Anna have. They gave creative input to our students and enjoyed that process.”
“The Real Gemma Jordan” tells the story of Gemma, a young woman in Lincoln, who suffered the death of her father and became increasingly isolated during the pandemic. She and her mother have different approaches to grieving. Gemma establishes an identity online and is trying to become an influencer on social media. Her online popularity begins to grow, and then she discovers that someone is impersonating her, along with her entire inner circle of friends and family. She takes a friend on a road trip to try to find the imposter. In the process of unraveling the mystery, she learns much about what’s real.
Jacquelyn vonAshwege, a junior interdisciplinary studies major from Kearney, Nebraska, plays Gemma.
“What was interesting about playing Gemma was that who she was under the surface was a girl a lot like me who was dealing with real-life things like loss, strained relationships, loneliness, and not having a sense of direction,” vonAschwege said. “What makes you fall in love with a character is their humanity, so playing a character that was so similar to who I am was special, and it helped me connect to her story.”
She said having the chance to work with Rokicki and Jacobs was a “dream.”
“We would video chat for rehearsals, some would be with Rob workshopping the songs, and others would be with Anna running lines,” vonAschwege said. “They were both lovely to work with. They gave me such positive feedback and treated me like a professional, even though I’m still a student. The kind of experience working with seasoned Broadway professionals while I’m still in college is so invaluable to me, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”
Belflower co-directed the film with Husker alumnus and award-winning, independent filmmaker Alexander Jeffery.
“I loved Alisa’s creative approach to finding a way for her students to work on a challenging and creative project during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Jeffery said. “When everyone was going to Zoom for performances, Alisa dreamed up a more ambitious project to give her students an opportunity to create. I’m also her former student, and it was wonderful to work together in this capacity.”
Belflower said the film has accomplished her goal of giving the students the experience of working with professional Broadway composers, screenwriters, and a professional film crew.
“Despite the challenges, it did accomplish my goal of giving the students an artistic, valid experience, despite pandemic restrictions,” she said.
Following the premiere at the Ross, the film will also be submitted to film festivals.