Unique Variety Show Format Creates New Opportunities, Challenges
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Putting together a variety show has proven challenging for the “Ukulele!” team, but the myriad of personal talents onstage make for a joyful performance.
Assistant Professor of Theatre Jessica Cerullo created the themes and story line for “Ukulele!” Using inspiration from Vaudeville and other variety show formats, the theatre department created the roles and direction of the show.
“There is an overarching dreamscape which is the story,” said Cerullo. “I had certain roles in mind. If people fit those roles, they’re in the show, [and] if they didn’t, they’re not in the show.”
Students were selected to participate in the show based on their auditions. Once they were cast, Cerullo and others worked collaboratively with the cast to create different acts.
The nature of the casting process means the show does not have the same sort of linear plot that a regular play would.
“There’s a lot of nonverbal scenes and a lot of music,” said Cerullo.
This has given a new challenge to the tech crew backstage.
“Since there is no script, many of the cues are physical or from gestures from the actors,” said senior Melanie Medina, master of sound for the production. “That’s not uncommon for regular plays, but there are usually more cues that go off of lines that the actors say, and there’s none of that in this show. Our stage manager, Wendy, has become super adept at following the actions onstage, reading the written cues and telling the crew exactly when to go all at once, which is very impressive.”
To tie the acts together, different elements of the show weave throughout the performance.
“There’s seven clowns who sew all the acts together,” said Cerullo. “Ms. Variety is sort of the centerpiece of the play. It’s a story about a woman who’s really tired and doesn’t want to do anything anymore … and then she gets a ukulele,” said Cerullo.
Ms. Variety, played by junior Emily Krause, is a character who reappears throughout the play.
“I think [Cerullo] wanted something of a through line, or something that the audience could follow,” said Krause. “Rehearsals have been a matter of refining the acts that we have. It’s about refining and letting go of some ideas that don’t come together, to make something that doesn’t have to be linear but comes together under one overarching theme.”
Putting together a variety show has been a different experience for Cerullo from other plays.
“I know the least about the act that’s being presented,” said Cerullo. “When we do a play, I’ve researched that play; I have a real wealth of knowledge around the play. When two jugglers come in, I don’t know how to juggle … I have to learn basically from the performer this whole language about their art form.”
They also have a much bigger and more varied cast than usual.
“It’s a big cast,” said Krause. “We have 30 performers on stage … It’s a lot of people to coordinate, so it’s been a big struggle sometimes, but it’s also been fun to work out how to take all these people who have done a lot of theater and people who haven’t done any at all and bring everyone into the same place and get everyone on the same page.”
For people working behind the scenes, the large number of actors makes it more difficult than usual to coordinate the set.
“Because there are so many acts that are all quite different from one another, tech is much more complicated than usual. Coordinating curtain pulls, lights, sound, actors and set pieces has been quite the challenge,” said Medina.
The large cast also means performers don’t have to make as big of a time commitment to the show as they would for a regular production. Cerullo had student’s busy schedules in mind when she proposed doing a variety show. She hoped that by decreasing the time commitment, she could encourage students who don’t typically perform to audition.
“I wanted to do a piece that would reach out to performers who would not otherwise be involved in a production,” said Cerullo. “I was also keenly aware that the show would go up right to the end of the semester, and I wanted people to be able to do the show without making what is often a really big commitment.”
The variety show format has allowed the large cast of “Ukulele!” to showcase talents they already have, which makes the show easier to create and the performance engaging.
“I wanted to make a show also that was people doing things that they wanted to do,” said Cerullo. “I think there are some serious moments in the piece, but it comes from a place of joy.”
This was a desire to produce a more uplifting show during a stressful time of the semester.
“I think the show in general came out of a desire to give the students something different at this time of year,” said Krause.