By KATHERINE FOREMAN
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players—or so Belmont University now contends.
It’s evident in the university’s first all-campus theatre production group, bringing together students of various majors and courses of study in the pursuit of a common passion.
The idea for Student Theatre @ Belmont University, the campus’ first theatre organization open to the entire community of students, originated in January 2012, when senior Ryan Brennan was brainstorming a proposal for his honors thesis project.
“Working with the honors program pushed me toward finding a senior thesis that gave back to the university and its community,” says Brennan.
However, simply giving back to the community was not the only driving force behind Brennan’s endeavor.
“I came to Belmont as an AET [Audio Engineering Technology] major. I was surprised to find how limited my opportunities were in being involved with theatre on campus without at least minoring in it,” says Brennan.
“Once I was accepted into the musical theatre program I also found that it was very hard to work with my peers in the theatre department,” he added. “All of this pushed me into the mindset that eventually started this entire endeavor. I wanted to give musical theatre majors a chance to work on straight plays from both an acting and directing standpoint. Far more important than that, I wanted to create something that would allow anyone on campus to act in a mainstage production regardless of major.”
The organization includes students from both the musical theatre and theatre departments, as well as those from other majors, such as entertainment industry studies.
“I have been involved in STBU since I heard of it earlier this semester,” says entertainment industry studies major Ava Puckett. “I have been missing the theater world for a while, so I am thrilled that Ryan has started this organization on campus. I think many people would love to be involved in the organization since it seems to be the only theater group available for not theater majors. It has meant a lot to me, since I hope to be involved in film some day.”
“I would encourage everyone with even the slightest interest in theatre to get involved with STBU,” says performance major and organization actor Blair Allison. “I know a lot of people who did theatre in high school but aren’t majors who are aching to be a part of something. This organization is the perfect opportunity for them. Here they can still grow as artists and even learn from one another.”
The creative team behind STBU has been hard at work since the second week of the semester developing the organization’s first main-stage production, which is set to open this weekend.
“After auditions, acting rehearsals began Sept. 22 with table work. We got into full swing on our feet rehearsing four-five times a week since our master class from an outside professional actor Eric Pasto-Crosby on Oct. 1,” says Brennan. “I think it’s safe to say we mounted this production in a little over a month.”
The team’s goal for the first show was, in the words of Brennan, to produce “something that people want to talk about.” Partnering with Belmont Bridge Builders, an organization on campus dedicated to creating a community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students and faculty, STBU’s first production is a modern work titled “Stop Kiss,” which centers on the relationship between two women.
“I don’t want this play to come across as an immature rebellion over the controversy of our former soccer coach,” says Brennan. “This is an opportunity to mount work that is beautiful, gains attention, and that will cause ethical and moral discourse.
ADDING A NEW TWIST
Putting a modern spin on the preconceived notion of theatre and getting the community interested is a goal to which STBU is equally dedicated.
“Theatre is not a dying art form,” says Brennan. “I have nothing against the classics, but my generation specifically does not seem to have as much an interest in theatre. We’re putting up works that are going to show the community that theatre is topical, realistic, and contemporary. Having non-majors in our productions helps this. When someone who doesn’t usually see Belmont’s musicals or theatre department shows comes to see their friend and they see that theatre like this not only exists but that it is available for them to be a part of then I feel that I’ve done my job.”
STBU member and actor Rose Eichhorn shares Brennan’s viewpoint, saying “The organization means a lot to me because we will be doing shows that inspire people and make them think about certain issues that people in our own community are facing. I think it is important to bring that kind of awareness, and the fact that we can do that with an art form that I love is incredible.”
In Brennan’s eyes, the success and outreach of the organization will be largely “determined by the will of its members,” and a successful provocation of the audience.
“My last semester is dedicated to making sure this organization does not start and end with me. I will drive the organization as far as I can. Those students who express an interest in mounting additional shows, starting improv groups, giving masterclasses, and other things of that nature will drive it even farther,” says Brennan.
“I think that STBU will get a pretty large following once the show is performed. The crucial character in theatre is the audience, and I think we’ll definitely bring one in. Once word spreads I’m sure people will want to get involved. I can see Belmont’s community paying more attention to the theatre scene, and realizing that theatre can be for anyone,” says STBU vice president, producer, set designer, and technical director Bekah Reimer.
“This may sound corny, but I hope that the students will not only enjoy the performances, but have an open dialogue about what they make them think about and feel,” adds Reimer.
As the organization grows, Brennan hopes to branch beyond the occasional show and create a wide array of opportunities for students with a passion or interest in theatre.
“I hope to grow this organization far beyond one annual show. I mentioned more shows, improv groups, master classes and things of that nature. All of these things are determined by the interest of our members. In the future, I hope the organization will grow to put on musicals, straight plays, read original works, ten minute film festivals, and eventually give back to the community in any way we can,” says Brennan.
Student Theatre @ Belmont University welcomes all students with no charge of fees or membership applications. Members are expected to attend 75 percent of all meetings.
“I want STBU to be something that continues after its founders have graduated,” says Blair Allison. “It’s a wonderful outlet for people in the theatre and musical theatre departments (and other non majors) to work together and meet new people that they wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s how it is in the real world. You are never cast with a tight knit group of people you know.”
Brennan credits his team, which includes Garrett Marx as treasurer, Jordan Gonzalez as secretary, and Adrienne Ervin as PR head, as “the unsung heroes of all [his] work,” and insists that “none of this would be possible without the insurmountable work done by my creative team and officers of the organization.”