Life Lessons Learned in Theatre:
Last fall, the Department of Music presented the UMHB Opera Theatre production of the 2016 Broadway Revue, and the production featured hits from Broadway classics like Phantom of the Opera, Oklahoma, Hello Dolly, Sound of Music, Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun, and Kiss Me Kate. It was directed by George and Penny Hogan, who also served as conductor and stage director, respectively, and the numbers were performed by student vocalists. Six of these vocalists gathered recently to discuss the performance and what musical theatre means to them.
When it came to rehearsals, students were thankful for a little “tough love.” “We were in a trio called ‘Sing for Your Supper,’” said junior Katherine Spellmon. “It was a very challenging piece because of the chord progressions, and it required a lot of practice.”
“Rehearsals were fast paced,” added junior Karon Chapa. “Sometimes, we didn’t know what our director, Mr. Hogan, was thinking, and we just had to follow along with him and hope for the best. He pushes us in the best way possible.”
“It is out of love, though,” said Spellmon. “He pushes us to make us better, and you can see it on stage, too. He really does make us better. He sees the potential in everyone.”
For these students, the thrill of this show wasn’t just about the individual performances, but also about the relationships they formed on stage with castmates. “I sang ‘Music of the Night’ from Phantom of the Opera with Cardarious (Bonner), which was an awesome experience,” said senior Chaz Corder.
“We all have very unique voices, so we were able to make this piece come alive in different ways,” added senior Cardarious Bonner. “In the moment of the actual performance, though, I was hearing things that were spectacular from my castmates, and it was inspiring.”
“It is always inspiring being up there together making music for the Lord, because in the end, that’s what it’s all about,” said Corder. “Our music professors talk a lot about touching the hearts of others. You never know what your audience is going through, and sometimes, what you have to say in a performance is exactly what they need to hear.”
These vocalists believe the art of musical theatre holds an important function regarding issues of faith and service. “We weren’t singing sacred music, necessarily, but part of the point of what we do is convey the message that it doesn’t have to be sacred to really move someone,” said Spellmon.
“All of our music professors teach that we can touch someone’s life through musical theatre,” said Chapa.
“Even in the silliest song, there are ways to worship and unite through it. I still hear audience members mention how much they connected to certain songs or how much certain musical pieces moved them.”
Even beyond the music, though, these performers agree that theatre has the power to be more than just entertainment. “I think what’s important about theatre is it seems to validate people,” said Corder. “It says, ‘What you’re going through is okay. It’s okay just to be you.”
“You disconnect momentarily,” added Chapa. “That’s what theatre is about: to take audience members away momentarily from whatever is going on in their lives. We know that’s our job as performers.”
“I think theatre is when you make magic on the stage, and you put people in another world,” said senior Tiffany Collazo. “When I sang ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Evita, obviously I had to transform myself into the role of Evita. But I never just want to focus on myself and what I’m doing. I want the audience to feel they’re a part of the entire scenario. Theatre is immersing your audience into whatever you’re singing about.”
When it comes to what they are learning at UMHB, these students say they take lessons from theatre and apply them to life—lessons about versatility, humility, perseverance, and confidence. “Mr. Hogan likes to teach us to wear many hats, just as he does as the director and conductor,” said Corder. “We build our own sets and copy the music. He is adamant that we be versatile and very humble in our positions.”
“Also, theatre teaches you to persevere,” said Spellmon. “You may have rehearsals where you can’t do any-thing right, but theatre teaches you to move on. As in life, you fix the problem, come back the next day, and try again.”
“I’m very new to theatre,” added sophomore Joshua French. “In this most recent show, there was a part in my song ‘Do-Re-Mi’ from The Sound of Music that I just couldn’t master. Instead of getting frustrated, I had to practice and practice, and I think that’s a valuable lesson to learn in life.”
“Theatre also brings you closer to yourself, I think,” added Corder. “You learn more about yourself when you are exploring other characters, and you strengthen current aspects about yourself.”
“You can learn so much from being on stage,” said Spellmon. “I grew up in a military family, and I had a tendency to be shy in social situations. But on stage, I learned how to interact with people, and I began to use those skills in real life. It was a way for me to grow out of my comfort zone.”
“Theatre can really build confidence,” said Collazo. “Even before I came here, music was a way for me to come out of my shell because it was the one thing I knew I was good at doing. I could grow from that. Now, being with the positive people on campus has helped me be more sure of myself in all situations. Theatre has a way of doing that. We still get nervous before performances, but we channel that energy into our performances. Things like that help us grow and be functional human beings both on and off the stage.”
“And I’ll never forget something Mr. Hogan said when we began the semester,” Collazo added. “He told us that in theatre, we are not entitled to anything, just as we are not entitled to anything in life. We have to be responsible and work and work and work. That’s theatre, and that’s life.”
Photos courtesy of Bello Photography