This semester, Eastern’s spring musical is going to look a little differently due to COVID restrictions. I interviewed the director, Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe, to get some insight into what students should be expecting.
Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe is a theatre professor and the owner of a professional theatre company called Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective. She said that ““I love working with college students, so when the opportunity came my way, I was really excited.” Originally, she’d planned to use an already-written script, but because COVID and other unplanned events, she ended up writing the book herself. “It was interesting writing the book for this. I took this on whole-heartedly, but it was a quick turnaround,” Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe said.
The musical is titled “Still Here,” which comes from one of the songs that two of the characters sing together. It’s compiled from songs taken from different Broadway shows that have a similar theme: how people renew as we’re coming out of this COVID state. The musical questions, “How have we changed, having been in this bubble of COVID, and how do people still retain their humaness, especially when it comes to love and loss?” Most of the songs are Steven Sondheim songs or those written by people who were inspired by him, and the scenes were written around the songs. According to Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe, several shows in the past few years have done this, by taking favorite songs and tying them together.
“I’m excited to really do my part to help Professor A. and the students build up the musical theatre program here,” Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe said. “We learn about being human through theatre.” She discussed how theatre has been a staple of human interaction across time, whether it was called storytelling or something else. She also called theatre “a great learning tool” and emphasized how it can teach us how to live our lives and avoid making the mistakes of the characters. For that reason, she really enjoys helping colleges build up theatre programs.
When asked how COVID has affected the process of creating theatre, Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe exclaimed, “Singing with a mask on is not fun! You’re sucking in a lot of cotton.” She also explained how she wrote the script with COVID in mind, so she limited the number of characters on the stage at one time and tried to keep people spread out “so everyone isn’t just breathing on each other.” The script is also written in the world of COVID; the characters talk about being in a pandemic in the world of the play.
The show will also be filmed in the style of Hamilton, with shots both from the audience and on the stage. There may be a possible opportunity for students to view the show in person on campus, but that hasn’t been determined for sure yet. The show opens March 25 and will run until the 27th. Eastern is also participating in Theatre Week, which is a week-long celebration of theatre with professional and university theatre programs across the city. Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe is hoping that this will raise awareness for Eastern’s theatre program.
However, through all of the discouraging arrangements made necessary by COVID, Dr. Ardencie Hall-Karambe was ultimately optimistic about the situation. “Theatre has been around since the beginning of man, and it has survived many a plague, so it should survive this one,” she said. Despite the difficult situation caused by the pandemic, theatre can still survive through it. To help support your university’s theatre department, be sure to check out the spring musical, “Still Here,” when it opens!