It’s showtime, and MacEwan’s second-year theatre students are here to start off the season with a bang. Looking for a date night idea, a night out on the town, or, honestly just anything to make you feel alive? I spoke with the cast, the director, Marianne Copithrone, and the music director, Cathy Derkach about the rehearsal experience, COVID challenges, and all the juicy details about their upcoming show.
Kicking off the theatre season, the cast is performing a musical called Company with music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim. Company is about a man named Robert (Bobby) who turns 35, and his friends decide to throw him a surprise party. The musical is a series of non-linear scenes held together by the common theme of relationships and marriage. The musical centres around Bobby who is indifferent to the idea of love and marriage.
Colby Kinsey, second-year fine arts student who plays Bobby, explains the premise of the story. “When they surprise him, in a split second, he has all of these flashbacks of him interacting with all of his friends, who are all married. They are vignette-styled scenes,” Kinsey says, “He sees the struggles and the good things of each relationship, and inevitably all of these moments help him decide what he wants out of life in the end.”
Lisa Kotelniski, second-year fine arts student who plays characters Sarah and Marta, describes the show as thought-provoking and reflective of human nature. “I think one thing that’s really important about the show is that there’s a central theme on challenging relationships,” says Kotelniski. “There’s something to say about social norms and expectations. It makes you think as an audience member.”
The show originally opened in New York City in 1970. “It was the first time Stephen Sondheim had written music and lyrics — he had just written lyrics prior to that. The success of Company meant that he had arrived (in his career)” says Copithrone.
It goes without saying that music plays a vital role in musical theatre production. Derkach explains how Sondheim’s music intertwined with the story in chaotic-harmony. “The music of Sondheim is renowned for being challenging, surprising, intricate, and character-driven,” Derkach says. “Stephen was a lover of puzzles, and you can really feel that in his scores. There will be (musical) themes that reoccur.” She goes on to say, “In this particular show, because the couples are intertwining and these ideas are intertwining, the music does the same, and it’s reflective of that chaos that turns into an open flow.”
Stephen Sondheim passed away last year, and the day of Company’s preview at MacEwan will be approximately a year apart from his death. In a way, our theatre students involved in the show will be paying homage to Sondheim’s life and work.
The rehearsal process is intentional and beautifully intricate. The cast spends weeks fleshing out the music, vocals, choreography, and connection with the character and audience. “There are so many moving parts in musical theatre as far as learning the music first. All of that music has to be in the actor’s heads so that they can sing while they’re learning choreography,” says Copithrone. “There’s also the stories that they’re telling in the scenes.” It doesn’t just stop there.
“Each thing is added, and then as you get into tech, costumes are added, light is added, and set is all there,” says Copithrone. “Adding the orchestra is a huge thing because they are another set of actors. They are not just musicians but play a big part in realizing what it’s all about.” The second-years spend hours rehearsing on top of attending classes and juggling other projects. It’s crucial that performers take care of their body and mental health more than ever when a show is fast approaching.
The pandemic hit the theatre industry pretty hard. Shows were canceled across the board. Many actors and performers lost their gigs. The musical theatre students at MacEwan were quite affected by this change too. “There’s only 12 of us (second years). We were the ‘COVID year’ that came in just after the pandemic,” Kinsey says. “There were sixteen of us to begin with and now there are twelve. Our class is tiny.”
“I think it for sure hit the theatre community and it’s slowly getting better,” says Kotelniski. “But I think we still have a lot of work to do as a community to support each other, to attend those shows, and to see other community theatres because it (the theatre industry) was impacted very heavily (by) COVID.”
This is the first full musical that the second-years have done since they have been in the program — and unmasked at that. Last year, they were required to rehearse with masks on but then perform maskless.
The pandemic evoked a lot of change for the theatre industry, some good and some bad. Theatres and production companies have had to consider hiring more understudies. Actors falling ill is a risk the cast and crew can no longer take if they wish for the show to move forward. “Theatres have to pay for swings and understudies because COVID is not going away and people are still getting sick,” says Copithrone, “If you don’t have those checks and balances in place and somebody gets sick, you’ll have to close down. That happened a lot last spring. It hit some theatres hard financially because that’s another expense you have to budget for.”
Amber Larson, another second-year student who plays Joanne, chose to appreciate the silver lining of the pandemic and admires how creative people utilized the time inside to nurture their talents and gifts. “COVID was a tragedy, and horrible things happened, but I do think it was a time where lots of creative people were given time alone to birth new ideas,” she says. “Even though the world shut down and everything changed, people still had the passion to be creative. People were able to do something that they cared about and create something magical and now we’re seeing the beauty that came out of it.”
Kinsey is excited to show off what he and the rest of the cast and production team have been working on. He is the only one in his large family who has a deep love for musicals and he is eager to share that love with the ones he cares about. Kinsey wants to show his friends and family why he loves theatre so much and that there is an entire community out there who enjoys it as much as he does.
Larson says that she’s looking forward to being on a live stage for the first time in four years. “I haven’t acted in a musical on stage in front of many people since high school; my last musical was in 2018,” says Larson. “I’m so unbelievably excited to see people’s faces and hear people laugh… it’s just one of my favourite things.” She’s excited to see the musical theatre community flourish once again after the pandemic. “People are buying tickets already. I know that people care. People are returning to the theatre, which brings me so much joy,” she says.
Kotelniski is stoked to be performing on the Triffo stage for the first time. “It’s really great to work on a full production and meet the theatre production students and collaborate and just really bond as a community in the arts,” she says.
Are you interested in joining the Music Theatre program at MacEwan? Are you unsure if you’ll like it? The students and directors describe the program as a warm and inviting space where students are encouraged to show up as their authentic selves.
It turns out, this program is good for the soul too. “It’s constantly having fun with everything that you’re doing. You’re always learning to approach every character and every person from a place of love. It (the program) teaches you skills that you didn’t even know you could learn here,” says Larson. “I’ve learned how to take care of myself, and the importance of self-care. I’m so aware of my whole being and it’s really special.”
Kotelniski appreciates being taught by industry professionals and receiving first hand knowledge from the theatre world. “I think that’s super important when you’re in this field because who you know matters,” she says. MacEwan’s Music Theatre program values quality of learning and world-class facilities that aid in student success.
“This program brings all of my passions together. Growing up, I always wanted to sing, act and dance and I didn’t have enough confidence to do it until I was an adult,” says Kinsey. “Coming here, I’ve met all of these people who have the same passions that I do, and we have that in common. We become a family and that’s what I really love.”
Derkach has a blast teaching the students in the Music Theatre program and looks forward to working with them in the industry. “I often say to students, ‘See you guys on the other side!’ and every season I’m working with somebody that has graduated out of this program,” she says. “(The students are) all kind of geniuses so it’s an honour to (teach them).”
Musical theatre performance is now a major in Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), making it a four-year degree instead of a two-year diploma. The cast and directors hope that more students discover what musical theatre students can do by attending this show.
Why should you see the show?
Larson says that the show challenges the audience and it calls you to reflect on your own life. “You can’t leave your problems outside; they’re on the stage! It really causes you to hold your thoughts and yourself accountable.”
“The thing that’s beautiful about this musical is that there are parts where you’ll laugh, there are parts when you’ll cry, or you can take things (from the musical) and relate it to your own life,” says Kotelniski.
Derkach is excited to celebrate live performance again and encourages students to appreciate what the students showcase “It’s golden to be able to see this… and live,” she exclaims.
Save yourself the FOMO and grab your tickets before they sell out! Preview night is Nov. 30.
2 hours and 45 minutes (with a 15-minute intermission)
Nov. 30: Preview night at 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 1: Opening night at 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2: 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 3: Show #1 at 1 p.m. and show #2 at 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 4: Closing night at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the box office
Open Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Located on the first floor of Allard Hall
MacEwan Staff $18
PREVIEW are $10 tickets/per person.
London Road Feb. 8 to 12
Spring Awakening March 29 to April 2
For general inquiries about MacEwan’s Music Theatre Performance program, please visit their website at macewan.ca/academics/programs/music-theatre-performance/ For more information about theatre season and upcoming shows, please visit macewan.ca/academics/academic-departments/theatre/theatre-season/