The Back to School Revue is upon us once more, with a cast, pro-staff, and pit that is most definitely 12 fire emojis out of 10 fire emojis. While today's media is focused on all of the troubling aspects of the world, the e-boards of Cabaret and LTC, as well as the Rutgers Theatre Community in general, wanted to shine some light during a particularly dim time in society. In darkness, we can always find light, and for this weekend only you'll be able to find some light by watching Illuminations: A Musical Revue, co-directed by Emily Reineke and Julia Mendes.
Yesterday, I had my first creative writing class of the semester. We analyzed a poem by Maggie Smith entitled, "Good Bones", and discussed whether the speaker was an optimist or a pessimist when she writes about the world being "fifty percent terrible". Completely unrelated to the fact that it's the middle of tech week, my mind kept drifting back to the revue and it's constant back and forth between songs with positive emotions and those with negative emotions. We as humans on this beautiful green and blue (well, kinda) earth have so many things to talk about. However, our newspapers and media outlets seem to only be discussing the bad parts. War. Riots. Racism. Hunger. Death. Dirty Politics. Donald Trump's existence in general. We need some light.
Our insanely talented cast will take you through the many different emotions that we all must be feeling - except we do it through song and dance and dramatic looks.
In case you didn't know, I am a co-music director for this show, which means that it's not super weird when I go up to people, shove my phone in their face, and ask them to answer my questions. We have an insane amount of talent and character and lovely lookin faces in this cast and they had a lot to say about this show and about the different social issues our society is trying to work t
One of the coolest parts about Illuminations is the choreography. Alex Albanese (Senior; Theatre Major, Music Minor) worked his butt off (literally) to get our cast into shape. Since the revue is a smorgasbord of songs from different genres, he pulled from his experiences in different shows and even conducted his own research on different time periods to make the dances accurate. In pieces like "Til It Happens to You" and "In", he even tries to bring in gestures that make you think about today's social issues. It's pretty awesome, you'll see when you watch it.
My lovely co-music director, Liam McGeary (Junior, Jazz Education) and I had an awesome time learning the ins and outs of the songs and rehearsing it with this killer cast. It's been an extremely rewarding experience for the both of us. When I asked him about his initial thoughts about the setlist for the show, he said "I heard about the setlist before I even accepted the position, and Emily told me that Fix You was in it, and I said 'Yes, I'm in' because that's my favorite song in the world. I was familiar with a few of the songs; The songs I knew, I loved, and the songs I didn't know, I now love."
For those of you who don't know, my very talented friend and colleague, Taylor Rehe, arranged 7 out of the 20 songs that are in this show. Just another example of how much talent this school and this theatre company has. I was very lucky to have worked with these two musicians and artists during this entire process.
These "Issues" That Everyone is Talking about
Clearly, our world isn't perfect. We def got some stuff to work out not only as Americans, but as a human race. I asked some of the cast and pro-staff of Illuminations about social issues that were important to them and why.
"Our Voice Isn't Silent". I feel like this happens a lot in the LGBT community that there are all these amazing protesters and people who go out for Pride, but that's only so few of our community. I feel like there are a lot of us who don't get the chance to speak out and if they try to, it's squashed immediately - depending on where they live, their religion, etc. I'm lucky enough that my voice isn't silent, and I want to acknowledge those whose voices are. -Alex
"Stand For the Silent" When I was growing up I was bullied a lot, and I always think it's ridiculous how people are still being bullied today and people don't really talk about it. you hear about these people who commit suicides all the time and there has to be someone, a voice out there for everyone and I want to be a voice for people who can't stand up for themselves. -Brandon Conti (Communications, 5th Year)
"Rape is Rape. No Means No." This is an issue that is very present on college campuses today, especially with certain universities and people in power who aren't always handling it correctly. For instance, Stanford recently banned alcohol in order to deal with the issue of sexual assault. I want people to know that Rutgers University, especially people among the student theatre community, is not going to stand for that. We stand with victims and hope for a better future for victims of rape and people who are close to them. -Maya Mitterhoff (Sophomore, Music Education)
The Directing Team
Musical revues are unique in that they are completely made up by the directors and the production staff. Both of our directors, Julia Mendes and Emily Reineke, spent a lot of time choosing songs and finessing the set order and making sure each song was relevant to the universal message of Illuminations. After a long rehearsal, I sat with Emily in our kitchen (ya, we're still roommates) to talk about what this process was like.
"I saw a video on Facebook of the Gay Men's Chorus of New York City and they were singing 'Light' from Next to Normal on GMA. They were performing as a tribute to the victims of Pulse night club in Orlando and it was very powerful. I was with my sister at the time and we knew that me, Julia, and the rest of the e-boards of both companies would be writing the revue, and so we went to work. We literally sat there for three hours putting pieces of songs together, knowing that 'Light' would be the final number of the show and that would the inspiration for the whole thing."
Most of you reading this probably haven't been to any rehearsals, but I can tell you right now that I cry every time this cast sings this song. 'Light' is my 'Fix You', and it's a huge reason why I joined this production staff to do this show. That being said, please dear loRT do not turn around during this song to watch me cry - it would make me feel v uncomfy and you'd also be missing out on the art that is right in front of you.
For you curious minds, I asked the directors what their favorite songs in the show are. Julia Mendes (Senior, Music Education) says that 'The Times They Are A-Changin' is hers. "Even though it was written decades ago, it's endlessly relevant. Just take a listen to the lyrics, you'll hear it immediately. As for Emily, she had a couple. "I love Til It Happens to You into Fix You. The whole cast is so committed to them. The dance is beautiful - Alex did a great job - the vocals are literally so on point and everyone is really connected to the reason why we're doing this show, and it really comes through in the performance."
The Ghost Light
Our directing and technical teams put a lot of thought into the set for the show. One very important component is the ghost light, which was built by skilled and very talented technical directors.
"The ghost light in a professional theatre stays onstage to protect the theatre from ghosts, or ward off spirits, and it's become a thing so the theatre always has a light in it. when Julia and I were talking about things for the show, we thought a ghost light would be a perfect representation for us not only because we are two theatre companies coming together, but also because no matter what's going on, you could be in a dark place but there will always be some form of light you can look toward to 'ward off the demons'." -Emily Reineke (Senior, Music Education)
And with some wise words from Albus, I leave you. This show has been an incredible journey for everyone involved. Come join us, it's lit.
A special thanks to Justin Jajalla for all of these amazing shots of the show. Check him out!