February 1, 2017 | 11 a.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist
“I always think there’s a band, kid,” says Professor Harold Hill to lispy Winthrop toward the end of The Music Man.
It’s Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, Director, and Choreographer Meg Zauner’s favorite line of the show and a thought-provoking pause from the colorful, rhythmic action of the rest of the production. It’s a line that could also describe interim on Bethel’s campus, where—for the last four weeks—there has been an almost constant band of students marching across campus, memorizing lines, building sets, stitching costumes, and creating a musical from curtain call to final bow.
In order to cast and produce a musical in such a short time, rehearsals have been from 1–5 p.m. and 6–10 p.m. daily, with an additional 20 hours of scene construction and prop work required for each student. It sounds daunting, but Zauner says most students take advantage of the more relaxed interim schedule to go above and beyond and volunteer even more time than what’s required.
The highly condensed course, Producing and Performing a Musical, meets a general education requirement—and thus draws students of all majors—and it’s been a much-anticipated part of theatre majors’ schedules since 2001. The cast is rounded out with a mix of alumni and a marching band made up mostly of staff and faculty kids. Because of the broad mix of ages and experiences represented onstage during interim productions, Zauner says there’s art and science that goes into selecting a play that will work. She and her team focus on family-friendly productions that have a good mix of men’s and women’s parts and a large and well-integrated ensemble that will give many actors as much time onstage as possible.
Once a play is selected, the team plans how to build the set and engage students at every turn. Benson Great Hall is used primarily for formal music performances, Chapel, and other community events, so while it has incredible acoustics, it lacks the “fly space,” curtains, and orchestra pit of conventional theatres. Its vaulted ceilings in particular call for some creativity from the production team. Professor of Theatre Arts Rick Rees, set and costume designer for the show, designed giant, movable wagons on each side of the stage with scenes painted on both sides. They provide quick, fluid set changes that work with the huge space and blend seamlessly into the play action.
Taking part in live theatre is a valuable learning experience that builds confidence; develops posture, rhythm, and teamwork; and teaches empathy to students of any major or personality type, Zauner says. In the case of The Music Man, students even learned some history—including throwback cultural norms and vocabulary—to make their roles more convincing and bring the 1912 small town to life. Students put themselves in their characters’ shoes, thinking about what it would be like to witness the advent of the automobile, scoop bulk goods from a store’s “cracker barrel,” or feel the excitement of the Wells Fargo wagon coming to town.
“They had no phones! There were deliveries like four times a year. It was a huge deal!” says Zauner with a laugh. Because of the time period portrayed—and partly because of Zauner’s all-around tech-free approach to life—there was a strict no-phone rule on set between scenes, and students didn’t complain.
Zauner says there’s an energy that’s created when a group of people develop and present a play in such a short time, and phones or no phones, they needed to get to know and trust each other quickly and invest in their roles. She hopes that the message of the play is one that impacts guests and makes all the rehearsals and hard work worth it.
“In our society, we’re so divided, so divisive—Harold sees people who are divided, and he brings them together,” Zauner says. “He always thinks there’s a band…and the town changes because he truly believes that.”
The Music Man will take place Feb. 2–4 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m. in Benson Great Hall. Purchase tickets at tickets.bethel.edu.