Many college students spend hundreds of hours dedicated to creating their “senior thesis”. Some schools require it, some students pursue it as an independent study, and many present it at our ever-so-popular Liberal Arts Symposium. In the Theatre Department, we have a project called “Senior Capstones”. This capstone is an encapsulation of our four years at Juniata; where we’ve been and where we’re going. We are required to build a piece (whatever that may be) that we can take with us after graduating, and that reflects our future goals. For example, if you want to work in live theatre, creating your first short film as your capstones simply because it interests you may not be the most effective choice.
For me, I have been in love with musical theatre since I was little and my career goals revolve around Broadway in New York City, so I knew I wanted to sing for my capstone. I also wanted to do something a bit different, something that would set me apart from other people. I began working on my capstone over a year ago, playing with different ideas and music and challenging myself with each step. I decided to play with recording my voice, and see what it would be like to harmonize with myself live on stage. And what better way to incorporate music and theatre than with a cabaret?
I began selecting shows and pieces that I loved singing, or that told a story, that I could work with in some capacity. Some of the pieces I chose were solos, but others were more ensemble pieces with multiple characters singing. I will say it was a very ambitious project. I started with too much material that all felt cluttered and messy. I then began doing research, and watching other performers do original cabarets to get a sense of style and concept. Then I begam to write. I wanted the script to be natural, with the ability to talk freely instead of sticking to a scripted monologue. Instead of sitting and writing lines down, I recorded myself talking naturally, and then transcribed the lines that way, so that the text was comfortable and not forced. This entire process took a few weeks, and I eliminated pieces of music that didn’t fit with the emerging story as I went. It took a while for me to begin to put my piece on its feet, but luckily performing a solo cabaret requires little equipment or collaboration, so I was able to rehearse in my free time. Each senior was doing the same process as I was (creating a concept, writing a script, casting, etc.) so it was helpful to talk to one another. Every senior in the department met with the theatre professors every week as a group to discuss progress, questions, and feedback, so we were never left alone in our creative process. Once we started full-time rehearsals, we were all working together every night to further our individual pieces, as well as bring them together to create an evening showcase. We rehearsed for about two full weeks before bringing in our professors to observe, as well as an outside lighting designer. We incorporated lights, sound, and costumes for several rehearsals before we eventually opened the show to the public. We had two performances, as the Theatre Department’s contribution to the Liberal Arts Symposium.
Not only was this process incredibly rewarding, but it was truly eye-opening for me. There were many tasks I assumed I would be able to do on my own, that I realized half-way through that I could not do. I made mistakes. I got feedback, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Instead of curling up and crying every time someone had something to say about my piece, I took it and asked myself how to make my piece better, or stronger, or clearer. I realized that writing, directing, and starring in your own show is hard. If I could do this process again, I would have brought in an outside director, who could watch my performance and give me specific notes (since it was impossible to step out and see how my piece looked). I would have changed our rehearsal format, and given myself more time to work in the space before bringing it all together. This process was long, strenuous, and tiring, but I learned so much about myself along the way. I created a beautiful piece of theatre that I hope to take with me and perform in the future. This piece combined my passion for musical theatre with my personal journey of self-discovery, all packable into a small carry-on suitcase. I owe everything to my professors, who act as my mentors, friends, and shoulders to cry on when I need it. They have taught me everything I know about acting, and I would not be here, feeling as intelligent and confident as I do if it was not for them.