“I never direct the same show twice,” Teresa Moyer, Eastern’s musical theater director, said.
This year she is breaking that rule with Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which was last performed at Eastern 10 years ago this March.
Into the Woods combines four main fairytales (Little Red Ridinghood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella) to teach the consequences of the pursuit of selfish wishes. Moyer is excited for her selection, not only because it is a personal favorite, but also because of what it has to offer both audience and cast.
“It’s very hard to find ensemble shows where everyone has equally important parts,” Moyer said. Of the 21 parts in Into the Woods, “at least 17 of them carry the show,” she said.
Junior Adele Swartz, who plays Cinderella, also appreciates this aspect of the play.
“It’s a fun production to work on because there’s no chorus,” Swartz said. “It’s centered on individual characters, which makes it more interesting for us to play.”
Such a set-up has potential to crowd and complicate rehearsals. But a required Actor’s Lab, which students now audition for prior to auditioning for the play, has made this year’s rehearsals very productive, according to both cast members and directors.
Senior Jackie Nicklas, who plays the part of the Witch, has noticed the dynamic difference that time spent in the lab brings to the stage.
“It gives us a chance to be together, to get to know each other onstage,” Nicklas said, adding that by the time rehearsal begins, “we’re already a community and are ready to carry each other through this process.”
The increased productivity gives actors less time than the original six-a-week rehearsals, which then included 12-hour weekends.
“I don’t know how the students got their homework done,” Moyer said of years past.
Practice for Into the Woods averages out to 24 hours a week for most cast members. The director works an extra five hours a week in preparation.
Last year’s musical performance of Cinderella lasted an hour-the length of the first act alone for Into the Woods, according to Moyer. This adds considerably to the amount of work the production requires.
Assistant Director and ’98 Eastern alumnus Michael Brix agreed that Sondheim’s show is especially challenging.
“It’s a deep show-in terms of not just content, but the amount of text and music,” Brix said. “It’s hard.”
Brix is also an alumnus of the 1996 performance of Into the Woods, when he played the part of Rapunzel’s Prince.
Another challenge of the play, Brix said, is the lessons that beg to be pulled from it.
“Ten years ago, I did not understand a lot of the human struggle Sondheim was talking about,” Brix said, adding that a family of his own has changed that for him. “[A wife and child] weren’t concerns of mine as a college student.”
Yet Brix refuses to use his experience to teach the actors what he as a student did not learn from the play.
“As a director, I need them to go through that on their own experience,” he said. “I can’t give that to them, because it will be false.”
Senior Jessie Ruhf, rehearsal accompanist and pit pianist for the show, admits that the music especially is challenging; yet she has great confidence in the actors she is working with.
“People are going to come in, sit down and go, ‘Whoa-these are Eastern students?'” Ruhf said.
In spite of the amount of work that Sondheim’s production demands, those involved reported to be fully enjoying the investment. For reasons like this, Moyer is certain that the show will be sold out.
“You’ve got these heavy shows that have a lot to teach you, but you’re [sitting there] dying,” she said, “and then you’ve got diversionary shows that are fun, but have nothing to say.” Into the Woods, Moyer said, is a healthy blend of these two.
“It’s powerful; it’s got a lot to say about our social responsibility to one another, plus it’s a lot of fun,” she said, adding that she actually looks forward to the four- or five-hour rehearsals each night.
“But don’t tell them I’m enjoying myself so much,” Moyer added quickly. “Then they won’t pay me.”
Performance Information:Dates: March 29-31, April 2: 8 p.m.; April 1: 3 p.m.Pricing: $10 students, $12 adults; March 29, 30: $8 for students with EU IDs