by Morgan Keene

     As the fall semester comes to an end at the University of North Florida, members of the school’s Musical Theatre Club and the School of Music came together for their first full run through of the group’s upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

    A year ago, the University of North Florida canceled its theatre program due to a decline in the numbers of students applying. Despite this, a small group of students came together to keep theatre at the university by forming the Musical Theatre Club. Formed in 2016 by students Madeline Aquino and Dominik Tajti, the Musical Theatre Club has grown both in numbers and reputation since it began. Last year, the group put on their first ever production of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. The production involved three shows that took place over a two-day period, had two full-houses, a segment on the local news, and an article in the school’s student-run newspaper, Spinnaker. With the success of 9 to 5, the club decided this year to go even bigger.

    The club’s production of Into the Woods involves over 80 cast, crew, and musicians who have all come together simply over a shared loved of theatre. For many of the students involved, this isn’t just something they are doing as a hobby, but as a way to gain experience for their future careers. For psychology student, Samantha Powell, her involvement in the production is helping her gain experience towards her future career in music therapy. “There’s this thing called drama therapy and it’s meant to…help [people with] their relationship and social skills, and more…I specifically want to be a music therapist so I can help people with their coping skills, pain management, and more…So, by being in the show, it’s giving me a lot more experience and knowledge about music theory and how you can channel certain emotions to relate to a scene.” For other students, like Criminal Justice major Jacob Unger, being involved in the club and musical is helping him in other ways; “Having an organization and an event to look forward to motivates me to continue to put my best foot forward when doing school work so that I can devote the remainder of my free time to creating the best character and the best show that I can.”

    Since early September, the cast and crew of the show have been working together to learn their lines, blocking, and lyrics for the show. But for the first time, on November 28th, the cast was joined by a full pit orchestra. Unlike with 9 to 5, where a music program was used to play the music, the actors are joined by a pit who will be playing the music live during the shows. The orchestra is made up of 20 music students, all of whom play instruments and have volunteered their time to be a member of the production. The pit is led by student Kylie Copeland, who will be conducting and assisting the members in learning their music and timing. Copeland, a music education major, is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside the cast and crew for this production and was overjoyed to once again be a member of a pit; “As a student who is one year away from being a music teacher out in the world, it was very exciting to lead a successful rehearsal with 80-plus brilliant and talented students involved in the production, including the musicians. Unfortunately, UNF no longer uses its music students for their Opera program’s pit orchestra. So, it was also incredibly heartwarming to give [the pit members] the opportunity to be in a pit again and see their excitement and joy as they played.” For vice-president of the Musical Theatre Club and director of Into the Woods, Brittany Nievinski, seeing the cast she has spent the last three months working with, act alongside the pit made her extremely happy; “Both groups have been working so incredibly hard, and seeing how they were able to work together so well made it clear that our hard work is paying off!”

    Though rehearsals have come to an end for this semester, the group is nowhere near done. While there are no rehearsals over the upcoming Holiday break, the cast and orchestra will continue to rehearse their lines, characterization, and music individually. Rehearsals will reconvene in January for three weeks before the show’s opening night. The show will open in January for a two-night, three-show run on January 25th and 26th of 2019.
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