When I came to Yale, I thought I was done with musical theater. I had done a few productions in high school, but as I began to focus on my major and other interests, musical theater seemed to fall to the wayside. As part of an a cappella group, I figured that was enough of the arts to tide me through college.
However, when I decided to stay on campus for all the graduation commencement ceremonies, the commencement musical seemed like a great fit. Being Shrek, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but the musical theater boot camp that occurred certainly was not it. While I had auditioned for the musical during the spring semester, the actual process of putting the musical together happened over the course of fewer than 2 weeks. Our first real day of rehearsal included learning how to fall and other fight choreography from a professional, as well as making sure we knew all the songs and our lines.
On our first day of rehearsal we also learned that we had fewer than twenty actors in the production. This meant that we all had ample opportunity to be featured in multiple roles, and actors were challenged to expand their vocal ranges. As Mama Bear, Dragon, a Duloc Dancer, and one of the three blind mice, I was certainly not lacking in stage time. Even assistant stage managers got to have their shining moments on stage as fairytale creatures as we figured out how to portray all the roles properly. While daunting at first, we soon created funny ways to incorporate all the characters. For example, our Peter Pan was played by our conductor, who would stick his head out through the curtain to speak. While I doubt this is how the writers of the musical had planned for this cameo to happen, it certainly gave me a chuckle each time we preformed.
The production was meant to be a conceptual version of Shrek, so our crew had under a week to build a miniature stage on top of the actual stage of the University Theatre. This stage-within-a-stage was where much of the actual performance occurred, giving the audience an incredible view into the backstage workings of theater, and showing off the “behind the scenes” of a fairytale. While there were fewer than twenty of us on stage, tons of people put time and effort into the production – not only building sets, but also creating and teaching choreography, planning lighting, playing the musical score, and so much more.
While the result was a surprisingly well put-together musical, the best part of doing the commencement musical was the experience of creating the production. Having only two weeks to pull together a full musical does mean certain sacrifices must be made, but overall, the cast pulled together an amazing production. Our first full run of the musical happened the afternoon before opening night, which was both exciting and horrifying, but it did mean that the musical continued to evolve over the course of the production. While there were certainly a few blunders each time, by the last performance there was such an amazing sense of accomplishment that I have never felt while performing before.
In creating Shrek, I got to spend time with old friends and meet new people as we all stayed in freshman dorms on Old Campus. I explored restaurants I hadn’t had time to visit during the school year, hung out in New Haven, and watched many of my great friends graduate during commencement itself, all while dedicating time to one of the unexpected joys of my Yale career. While I’m not sure if I’ll continue to pursue theater while at Yale, my fifteen minutes of fame on the stage of the University Theatre gave me so much more than I could have ever expected, and I am so grateful to the Dramat for the experience. My new friendships, the unexpected knowledge of fight choreography, learning Shrek far better than I could have ever expected, and my stunning floor length red dress all created moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life.