The Show Must Go On: Penn State Thespians Present ‘Edges’
When the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt more than a year ago, the Penn State Thespians were met with a dark stage in Schwab Auditorium.
While venues across the world are still waiting to return, the oldest continuously running club at Penn State has found a way to bring its talents back to the stage.
This semester, the Thespians are excited to present “Edges” through pre-recorded showings. The musical is a song cycle written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the writers of the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” The show as a whole does not have a consistent plot, but each song featured tells a different story. Overall, “Edges” leaves a theme of finding oneself and discovering who you are.
“My favorite thing about this show is that because each of the songs has its own story. Everybody found a song in the show that was close to their heart,” director Jess Raskauskas said.
Thespians have been known for doing big productions before, including “Beauty and The Beast” and “Legally Blonde.” This year, though, the club needed to pick a show that had only four cast members if there were to be any in-person stage work.
In the end, “Edges” won over the club for its feasibility and lessons.
“This is a show that at least helps you solve the questions we all go through at one point or another,” producer Marianna Glacken said. “Life is just so big and scary…This is a show that is all about taking it one step at a time, figuring it out as you go along, which is exactly what we ended up doing.”
The four-person cast featurees Alex Pack, Isaac Manfull, Jocelyn Shank, and Addison Albert, with Muggs Leone and Madison Phillips as understudies.
The next challenge was being able to rehearse scenes. Rehearsals took place totally virtually. Living rooms, basements, and bedrooms were now at-home stages.
Raskauskas would begin each Zoom session by taking some time to bring the actors into the present and get grounded. She would run through the blocking of scenes, have the actor practice it, and then send a video later on of themselves practicing it.
Songs were taught line by line through the vocal director, Natalie Ondrey, singing each line individually and each actor singing the line back. She then made a rehearsal track for each person to practice with from their computer.
The last piece of the puzzle was working through tech week. For those who aren’t theatre nerds, tech week is probably the most stressful part of theater. It’s the week where everything (hopefully) begins to come together. This year’s was a little different, as tech director Kate Johansen was tasked with filming the whole show to later edit.
“We aren’t in live theatre…That’s kind of what’s disappointing about this whole experience is that we don’t get the live aspect,” Johansen said. “I wanted us to miss it, but I didn’t want us to sit there and think, ‘Man, this should have been live.’ I wanted there to be three separate [camera] angles so you do feel a little bit more like you’re in that space.”
The cast and crew had strict guidelines to follow while in Schwab Auditorium, but it ended up worth it because they did not have access to their home stage during the fall semester.
“If I have a bad day, at least I will be in Schwab tonight,” said Rasakausas.
The Thespians had three-hour blocks each night for a week in Schwab Auditorium, but they needed to follow the rule of working in the auditorium for 30 minutes and then going downstairs to the basement for 30 minutes to give room to breathe. That meant the team had just about an hour and a half each night to get scenes filmed.
In addition to that, the only place actors were allowed to sing while in the building was on stage. If they wanted to practice, then they needed to go outside. Also, no one was allowed in the wings like in a typical performance. Actors were spread across the auditorium, but that didn’t stop them from supporting each other.
“After every number, Kate would yell ‘cut,’ and it would just be thunderous applause,” Glacken said. “It was as if we had that live theatre experience because we were all there supporting each other. There was never a time that we felt we weren’t going to do this.”
Now, with the filming complete, Johansen has been working through the production to get it ready for this upcoming weekend. This will be Raskauskas, Glacken, and Johansen’s debut in their respective director, producer, and technical director positions.
All three of them echoed the same message: “Come see ‘Edges.'”
“Edges” will be available for viewing at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 15, and Friday, April 16. There will be two showings on Saturday, April 17 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. through ShowTix4.
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