At Camp Shallow Lake, anything can happen. Some of our favorite Wildcats have traveled to summer camp for a two-week of extravaganza of music and fun. Since this is High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, everything is not going to always run smoothly.
After Corbin Bleu quickly left on his chopper after announcing the Frozen musical and the documentary, EJ was named the director of the musical. Ricky discovered Lily had stolen his Beast harness and quickly found himself at camp with his classmates, while Nini left Salt Lake City for what’s sure to be a life-changing road trip.
There are so many dynamics at play in season 3, so HollywoodLife got EXCLUSIVE scoop from creator Tim Federle about what to expect beyond the premiere. He gave an update about Seb and Big Red, teased EJ and Gina’s future and whether Ricky could come between them, and discussed Nini’s arc being more about “identity” than music. Read our Q&A below:
I am immediately so intrigued by Saylor [Bell] and Adrian [Lyles]. I think they’re such great additions to the cast. Moving forward, what will Maddox and Jet bring to the group?
Tim Federle: I think any time a group of friends go somewhere, and the dynamic gets shaken up by new people, it can sort of change everything. I think for Saylor, who plays Maddox, she’s very protective of her time at camp because it’s the one place she can go and really feel like herself. For Jet, he’s got a little bit of a mysterious backstory, and he’s got a lot of demons he’s battling. He does not want to find himself in this group. In fact, he thinks theater people are so annoying, which we are, by the way. I think there’s real growth with them this season. Adrian, in particular, has a song later in the season that I find so beautiful and relatable, and I think people are gonna really freak out over.
Right at the beginning of the season, the show mentioned where Seb and Big Red are? Will we see them more throughout the season?
Tim Federle: They’re so important to me and to the show that it wouldn’t be a season without them, so I think viewers should stay tuned.
There are a number of new characters, including Jason Earles and Corbin Bleu. With Jason, should we expect a Hannah Montana reference at some point?
Tim Federle: Jason really is playing a character this season. There’s a little bit of a wink later this season to Jason Earles in the DCOM cinematic universe. But Jason is just such a reliable, solid comic actor who happens to be our acting coach on the show. This group of young actors has grown up watching Jason and has now been coached by Jason for the last couple of years. Putting him on screen was the fastest, easiest decision we ever made.
When did you decide that Corbin was the OG star that you wanted to reach out to this time around?
Tim Federle: Really early on. We had met Corbin at D23 when we launched the pilot a couple years of ago. He was so gracious with the cast and such a good guy. Corbin is a really funny comic actor who’s really in on the joke. He knows playing a fictionalized version of himself is absurd. That was an easy conversation. It was like, do you want to come play in our world and pay tribute to the OG but also poke fun at it a little bit? He was so down and so game and just so smart about the whole thing.
It’s a bit of a shift in season 3 going to summer camp rather than a fall and spring musical. What will the summer camp setting allow that maybe the school setting doesn’t?
Tim Federle: Well, it’s fewer adults and bedtime is later. There’s a lot of sneaking around. It’s a little Lord of the Flies with the adults away and kids take over. I think there’s just a lot of fun and mischief and hijinks to be had.
EJ is now the director of the musical. How is he going to juggle that?
Tim Federle: I think he thought this would be the last summer he got to just be a kid. And in fact, he’s been thrust into this leadership role before he wanted to so, he has a lot of things to figure out this season. He and Gina have this good thing going, and neither one of them wants to mess that up. There’s a lot of dynamics at play at this two weeks where nothing’s supposed to go wrong.
Ricky and Lily ended things after he discovered the harness in her room. Will she be back? I feel like she’s not going to just go away silently.
Tim Federle: Lily’s like a persistent rash. She’s basically gone, but I think with Lily you’re gone but never forgotten. I think there’s always a chance at more Olivia Keegan in the future just because she’s so brilliant.
For Gina, this is a summer of firsts for her. I know you give each character their due, but is this the season of Gina coming into her own as a performer and everything?
Tim Federle: One hundred percent. Sofia Wylie is such a star. She’s so gracious, so prepared, so talented. She is a mogul, and she’s going to be a mogul in real life. Sofia has got such extraordinary range as an actor. She’s so funny, but she can play such deep emotions as well. She really asked for a rom-com season. She really wanted that softer side of Gina but without ever losing the edge. I think Sofia totally nails it and has a really big season.
School life is always different than summer life. And that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. What can you say about EJ and Gina’s relationship and where that’s going to go?
Tim Federle: I think that’s their season. That’s what they’re figuring out now that EJ has even less availability because he’s so concerned with putting on the best show ever. How this couple can have this amazing summer together? Audiences will have to watch and see.
I have to ask about Rina because fans want to know. We see EJ talking to Gina in the last moments of the premiere about how this is going to be their perfect summer. Nothing’s going to come between them, and then we have that imagery of Ricky walking right in and interrupting everything. You talked about a rom-com season. Should we expect a love triangle, perhaps?
Tim Federle: I think love triangles are so baked into so many premises, and certainly were from season 1 of our show. But I think Ricky’s respectful and knows that he has not always done right by Gina and wants to respect the fact that Gina has a good thing going with EJ. Ricky is there to have a summer of fun. He got lost in Lily Land for a minute and, like, what was he thinking? He bounced from Nini who he thought was his endgame to Lily, who was really fun but ultimately pretty dark. I think Ricky comes into the summer truly wanting to just have fun, and we have to see if he pulls that off.
Possible romance aside, I think that Ricky and Gina do have a connection in terms of just a friendship.
Tim Federle: They’re both outsiders. Ricky was a skater, Gina was the new girl, and they accidentally have a lot in common once they put aside their differences.
Nini’s not at camp, but she has this pivotal talk with Miss Jenn about her future. It seems to be mirroring Olivia’s life in a way. Was that the intention?
Tim Federle: We never try to write anything that feels too parallel because it doesn’t feel fair. Weirdly, we’ve often written a story on the show that 6 months later comes true in real life. In this case, in fact, I wanted to pivot Nini away pretty quickly from this music dream into something more about identity. As you get later episodes, you see Nini explore where she really comes from, and it has nothing to do with music or being a pop star. I think that story is just a different route for Nini that we wanted to take her in.
So we will be seeing more of her other than the first episode?
Tim Federle: Yes.
Miss Jenn had that conversation with Nini at her house, but she’s not at summer camp. Will she pop up more as well?
Tim Federle: I would hope so. It feels like it’s not High School Musical without Miss Jenn. She’ll figure out a way to get in there.
You have some other new characters like Jesse Tyler Ferguson and JoJo Siwa. What can you say about their characters?
Tim Federle: They’re there to shake it up and to make a splash for the audience, but also to really supplement and amplify the dynamics of the cast that hopefully people already love. JoJo has some history at the camp. Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s character has some history with Nini’s family. It’s just fun to take these classy, genuine big stars in the world and see them play in our world. They couldn’t have been lovely or more gracious.
Frozen is one of my favorite recent Disney movies. I know you’re very cryptic about which songs you’re performing, but will we get big Frozen numbers this season?
Tim Federle: Yes, you will. Also, you’ll get to see some songs from the Broadway production of Frozen that are so fantastic. And if you haven’t discovered them already because of the theatrical, then you’ll see some duets and there’s a solo. There are just really cool things that Bobby [Lopez] and Kristen [Anderson-Lopez] wrote for that Broadway production that are really special and that we got to perform.
With season 3 being set at summer camp for just two weeks, will this lead directly into season 4? Or will a new school year be season 4?
Tim Federle: We’re still figuring that out. It’s still pretty early in the writers’ room, but we’re pretty sequential. I think it would make sense that we go back to school, and we’re sort of figuring out all those details right now.