“Some people paint it as an exclusive thing, when really it’s ultimately about giving a gift to the audience, I guess… and the end when we bow.. that’s us thanking you for coming. It’s about giving back,” Bobbie Edmunds (’17) explains, running her hands through her fiery red hair, as she talks about Collegiate’s theater program. “People think of it as ‘Oh, they do the theater thing,’ but ultimately there are so many ways to get involved. It’s not just about being in the show,” she adds. Throughout a two-hour rehearsal, students from all high school grades joke around with each other, encourage each other to do their best on stage, and put forth an immense amount of work into the preparation of their fall musical, Pippin. There is not a single person in the Hershey Center for the Arts from 7-9 pm that doesn’t want to be there. “In the process there is a lot to get done… and it’s really enjoyable because everyone is so focused and so happy and determined, and, you know, it’s just a really good environment to be in,” Zach Bostic (’18) says about the entire theater company as a whole. This could not be more evident to anybody who walks through the theater during rehearsals or talks to any member of the production. In a very fitting way, the only emotion that these actors can not conceal on stage is their love of being where they are and doing what they are doing.
“I hate censorship,” senior Marlyn Scott states. “I think it limits a lot of people and at such an impressionable stage we are all in as teenagers… censorship blocks off opportunities, different ways to express yourself.” She is leaning back in a rolling chair in the lobby of Oates Theater, her hands idly playing with a random book full of sheet music she’s picked up off of the nearby table. The two girls sitting on either side of Marlyn nod their heads in agreement. For the past ten minutes, our conversation has been fixed over the small changes the Collegiate Theater has to make to the scripts of certain productions to make them more accommodating to their typical audience. “I wish we had more opportunities to express ourselves in different ways,” she continues. Nothing about her tone is harsh. Marlyn does not resent the theater department for removing a highly mature scene from Pippin. She, in fact, understands and supports it; she just wishes she was in a place and time where it was not necessary to censor some shows. “As I’ve gotten older the more risque material I’ve wanted to try. You want to break out of this little box of polished neatness.” When Marlyn says the word “risque” she looks at Bobbie, who it sitting adjacent from her, and wiggles her eyebrows up and down. The best way to describe the atmosphere of the interview is casual and, more importantly, comfortable. As Marlyn, Bobbie, and Elise Dalton (’16) chat about what they would change about the theater program, they feel no hesitation to speak their mind. They feel as comfortable and safe in Oates Theater as they do in their own bed. It’s not just these three girls that feel this way. The entire cast and crew stroll through the theater as if they’ve lived there their entire lives. The only word that can proficiently describe what Oates means to them is the word “home.”
From the actors to the crew to the musicians, it is made clear that their home in Oates is not restricted just to people who have been in the theater for several years. Bostic, only in his second year of performing, explains “every one that comes in gets acclimated to what we’re doing and the way we do it” before going on to comfortably share his own opinion on censoring pieces. There is no awkward phase of getting to know the Collegiate Theater company, as soon as you walk in you’re family, and whatever you want to say, express, or feel, they all support you.
So what is it that makes this slightly oddball group of students and arts teachers feel like family? Why is there a connective feeling that pulls you into it as soon as you sign up to work on a musical? It is the factor of growth. Through each warm up, read through, dance rehearsal, and final production, the cast and crew grows together like a living organism. “I think there is something to learn from each type of material we do,” Bobbie comments when asked about the shows she’s been in and wants to be in. As they learn together, they begin to understand each other, and, like a real family, they go through emotional trials together. Although theirs are staged, they find themselves presenting themselves to each other in their worst, best, most desperate, or overjoyed conditions. “I also feel like that’s part of it… pushing the comfort zone,” Bobbie says. They hold each others hand in support as they channel their darkest thoughts or embrace all the love in their lives to act as truly happy as humanly possible. The acting process is not done alone; it takes the entire cast to help create one character. The theater company pushes each other past their comfort zones to be as successful as possible.
After spending one evening with the cast and crew of Pippin, I learned more about the politics of casting shows, censoring shows, or who they would like to see in their audiences, than I expected. However, the greatest thing I learned was not said in the constant flow of talk being offered from each actor but in the freedom and comfort at which they spoke. I was given insight not from the technical information they gave me about their show but by the ease of which they accepted me into their busy rehearsal.
If you don’t find the incredible talent found on stage enough to get you to see Pippin this fall, the cast’s love for one another and their personal chemistry will be enough to convince you to buy a ticket. The show plays from Thursday, October 29th through Saturday, October 31st (7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday). Tickets will go on sale in early October and will cost roughly $15 per person. The Pippin cast would love to welcome you into their home.
All photos taken by Marge Davenport.