By Sarah Clayton
On Wednesday April 21, the Discover Shelby Theatre within the Center for the Arts opened its second show, “Company”.
Written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, the musical follows Bobby, a single man living in New York City who can not commit to a steady relationship and the five married couples that are his best friends.
It is a concept musical, which is a type of musical that does not follow a narrative but rather themes that revolves around Bobby’s thirty-fifth birthday.
With themes revolving relationships, marriage and loneliness this musical directed by Dr. David Callaghan has the honor of being the first musical production within the Center for the Arts.
Originally the department announced a different Sondheim musical for the spring semester “Merrily We Roll Along” but it was announced last semester on October 8 that “Company” would be the spring musical.
“We did the show in 2008 and over the years many students have expressed a desire to perform in ‘Company,’ as it is one of the great Stephen Sondheim musicals. The script also has several stylized conventions influenced by the experimental theatre of the 1960s, which we thought were well suited to the social distance and safe singing practices we needed to follow. And myself, Music Director Jennifer Hartsell and Guest Choreographer Carl Dean all have a history with the show and really love it,” stated Callaghan.
Similarly, to the department’s first show, “Stickfly,” there were concerns regarding COVID-19 safely.
The department decided to work on the spacing. There was limited spacing for audience members sitting in the orchestra area with the first five rows of seats blocked off to audience members. With spaced out choreography, no touching or romantic intimacy between characters both on stage and off and limited props.
One interesting thing about the production was that there were plexiglass boxes created that the five married characters used for most of the production. The boxes had plexiglass doors that were swung open at certain points of the show but also created safe social distance to the cast members on stage.
Also, all the characters on stage wore masks, and understudies were cast in case of a main stage cast member getting sick.
Of course, when performing a show in the middle of a pandemic, there come challenges with the production process.
“It’s been really different because we never had to work through COVID-19 protocols, so the biggest of those two have been social distancing and the masks mandate, so that has offered a new challenge but also a new way to live theatre for us,” said Josh Norris, who played Bobby.
“This process has been stressful and overcoming a lot of challenges in terms of having social distancing choreography and not being able to get into clumps especially with Carl Dean (choreographer of the musical) who loves his formations…but having to overcome that and have that feeling if we were touching or what that kind of does to us in our own little space. Trying to figure that out was very challenging,” said Nolan Evans, who played David.
“ It was certainly challenging at times with observing our pandemic related safety precautions, which included socially distanced staging with no physical contact (we also could only do group singing in the larger theatre versus rehearsal rooms). But it was also a lot of fun and everyone was patient and very committed to the process, which included doing a large-scale musical/show for the first time in our new Theatre and figuring out that space and the lighting system,” said Dr. Callaghan.
With a mixture of excitement and challenges along the way the cast was able to get into a flow and was still able to connect with one another.
“It’s been really good. I think it’s been the first time in a long time that I have been connected to a cast, so I think it has been a good process. It’s been a really safe process too with COVID and everything, but it has been really fun,” said Kodie Mae McDearmont, who played Joanne.
Cast members faced challenges related to wearing and performing in masks while on stage and in rehearsals, choreography and how to portray romantic intimacy with one another on stage.
“Masks are obviously a challenge and not being able to touch each other. That was something that Dr. C had to work on with us, was how to find the intimacy between these married couples with touching being able to touch, so finding those moments where it’s like I know in this moment if we didn’t have COVID then maybe we would have hugged here or kissed here, and we can’t do that, so we have to find that electricity in that and love without that,” said Mars Peterson, who played Harry.
“It was definitely a challenge when we got into choreography rehearsal whenever we were trying to figure out how close we could be to each other and where we had to be facing. People couldn’t be upstage of someone singing downstage from them, so there was some trouble figuring that out, but I think Carl Dean and Dr. C came up with solutions a thousand times faster than my brain could and we adapted really well,” said Macy Robinson, who played Marta.
Despite all the challenges the cast had to overcome, a lot of positives came out of the rehearsal process. “I really didn’t like ‘Company’ at first but now I think with the experiences that I’ve had doing it and being a part of this all the characters are very important to me because they have beautiful arcs and now, I went from hating the show to loving the show and now I like it,” said McDearmont.
There were a good number of freshmen casted in “Company” that felt grateful for being casted.
“Well for all of us it’s our first college show because we are freshmen, so it’s pretty big, it’s a big deal for us. It’s a big honor to be a part of the process,” said Thomas Massey, who played Paul.
“Apart from what I talked about like it’s great being back in the theatre obviously, but just the show itself is a really cool depiction of the expectations of the seventies,” said Peterson. “It’s all about love, it’s all about heart, it’s all about finding your own way to love which is really important to me and like you know I think everyone finding your personal way to love and not have to follow a script with it.”
“Company” set a milestone within the Center for the Arts as being the first musical performed on the Discover Shelby Theatre and for Callaghan it means a lot to him to be putting on this production.
“I think ‘Company’ is a truly great play, and the great plays offer a multiplicity of meanings. ‘Company’ explores the need for connection and figuring out your own path towards ‘being alive’ [the name of the leading character’s final song],” said Callaghan.
“As we emerge from the past year, that strikes me as a valuable takeaway from this show. It has also been clear to me how much the cast and crew, as well as our audiences (even with only 40 people per night), have enjoyed being able to gather and share live theatre again. That has been truly special!”