Featuring more than 120 unique costumes and an array of set pieces, the department of theatre and dance’s final production, "Funny Girl,” shows off both the students and directors’ creativity.
“Funny Girl” is a musical drama set in New York before and after World War I. It follows the life of actress Fanny Brice, played by junior Nikki Davis.
While Davis and actors Alex Turner and James Grice all have laudable performances, set and costume designer Johann Stegmeir’s work plays a particularly important role in creating a realistic and attractive theatre world.
“As an actor, it is when the lights, costumes, and sets come together that the world of the play is actually created,” Davis said. “These elements have transformed an empty stage occupied by actors in their 21st century attire into a microcosm of 1910s New York.”
At a scene on a train platform, one sees this complete transformation in each actor’s costume. Even scene extras—whose characters neither had lines nor were named in the script—wore meticulously and thoughtfully designed costumes.
“Each costume and set piece was chosen for this specific play, for a specific scene, to fit a specific actor,” choreographer Anne Van Gelder said. Stegmeir said he and the directors base their costume decisions on a variety of factors, including body type and personality.
Whereas most productions choose to pay significantly more attention to principal actors’ costumes, the directors believed that paying attention to every detail helps actors and the audience alike immerse in the mise-en-scene.
“Everyone has a character, whether the script gives them a name or not,” said Heather Hogg, assistant director of costumes. Even actors whose characters aren’t named take on a persona.
“The actors pick names appropriate for their characters’ backgrounds. They can channel their inner Maude (a character created for actress Annette Hull), for example, and use that to augment their on-stage acting,” Van Gelder said.
A highlight of the production is “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” a lively number that recalls an alien Great War epoch, where American patriotism was exceptional. Here, the crew’s set, costume, and choreography inspire awe.
The men stand and salute in their World War I regalia. The women contrast, tap-dancing while wearing dazzling red, blue, and white costumes. And, in a fittingly extravagant flourish, a bald eagle swoops across the stage.
Between the hand painted bars and furniture, hydraulic-powered stairs, massive Corinthian columns and subway arches, and the billboard-sized post card of Long Island, the directors and students spared no expenses or efforts in attempting to achieve a sense of realism.
Even the live orchestra, despite the complexities it introduces, was added to aid in the immersion process. “It adds such an atmosphere to have a real, full orchestra. It’s different from just having pianos or recordings,” director Walter Schoen said.
While Stegmeir designed the set and costumes, the directors emphasized that the students involved in the department played the largest role in putting everything together.
In addition to the student-run costume and set crews and lab-hour contributions of students enrolled in Stagecraft or Introduction to Costume, the actors put in “no less than four hours, outside of rehearsal work,” according to Stegmeir.
“Ultimately,” Van Gelder said, “the process is about educating the students. Instead of teaching theories or telling students how to do things, we have them come in and do it themselves, and it’s really meaningful.”
"The best part of this production process is that everyone has really come together and created a really good feel of camaraderie and collaboration,” Schoen said.
Although the students and directors take pride in their work, attendance often does not correspond. Davis feels that the campus lacks both awareness and appreciation of the performing arts.
“As performers we are inviting you to witness a story, to set off on a journey with us, to escape your hectic lives for a few hours, in order to be entertained and emotionally moved," Davis said.
"Our dedication and hard work is all for the purpose of sharing a spectacular product with audiences who come to support, appreciate, and be entertained by the art of theatre. We do it for you! So please come see what we have in store for you with "Funny Girl"! Come celebrate the theatre with us,” she said.
The cast will be performing “Funny Girl” at the Modlin Center’s Alice Jepson Theatre between Thursday, April 16, and Sunday, April 19. The Thursday, Friday, and Saturday showings begin at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee begins at 2:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.
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