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Oct. 4, 2017

Anna Birmingham: Working with Broadway professionals

Oct. 4, 2017

Anna Birmingham, a junior double majoring in theater and social relations and policy with a minor in musical theater in the College of Arts and Letters, spent two weeks working with Broadway professionals as part of the ĭmáGen collaboration between MSU’s Department of Theatre and Wharton Center Institute for Arts & Creativity.

Each year, since 2014, imáGen invites Broadway writers, actors and dramaturges to MSU where they work alongside college and high school actors in presenting a staged concert of a new musical under the guidance of a Broadway-caliber director.  

The program is an extraordinary learning opportunity for the MSU Department of Theatre and community high school students who are cast in the production.  

“Working alongside these actors is absolutely incredible,” Birmingham said. “We’ve had rehearsals where our director will ask the Broadway actors about their process as actors and what thoughts go into their actions. That isn’t a normal rehearsal process with professionals, but they did it as a learning experience for us, and we got so many great insights into how they work through their roles.”

The script selection for this year’s ĭmáGen performance was “We Foxes,” a southern Gothic thriller set in small-town, 1945 Missouri. This new musical by Ryan Scott Oliver is the story of Willa (played by senior Theatre major Nicole Tini) an orphan girl who is adopted by the town sheriff, Quimby, and his wife, Vesta.

Oliver, who is described by “Entertainment Weekly” as a “major new voice in musical theatre,” was invited to be a composer-in-residence.

“This was the only show I auditioned for this season because I was so passionate about working with Ryan Scott Oliver,” said Birmingham, who plays Laura May, one of Vesta’s three best friends, and is the understudy for Vesta. “He is so highly regarded in the contemporary musical theatre community, and I’ve been obsessed with his work for a really long time.”

Along with Oliver, the imáGen program engaged several other visiting artists as part of the two-week residency, including Marshall Pailet, director; Matthew Schneider, dramaturg; Katie Thompson, actor; Wade McCollum, actor; Paige Conway, stage manager; and Ethan Carslon, Oliver’s assistant.

“It’s incredible because we have professionals, and then we have college students who are looking to do what the professionals are doing, and then we have high school students who are looking up to us because they want to do what we’re doing,” Birmingham said. “It’s people at all phases of life coming together and collaborating, and that’s something I can really appreciate. I’ve gained so much knowledge.”

Each day rewrites were done on the script and then presented to the cast that evening, providing a mutually beneficial collaboration between students and professionals.

Working alongside the visiting artists and students was the MSU ĭmáGen, which included MSU Department of Theatre faculty members Brad Willcuts, assistant professor, Alisa Hauser, specialist, and Dave Wendelberger, musical director.

“We Foxes”made its debut performance at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre last month.

Reused with permission from the College of Arts and Letters