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BWW Blog: The Freshman Musical

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I credit the Freshman Musical for so much of not just my first year college experience, but for helping me finally find my place at Northwestern.

BWW Blog: The Freshman Musical

The Freshman Musical: one of Northwestern's most epic traditions (aka the one time of freshman year when first year students can finally step out from their menial assistant roles and finally have a shot at running the show themselves). I don't know who thought it would be a good idea for freshmen to cast, direct, music direct, act, etc. for a full length production themselves, but it somehow always (well, most of the time) yields a fun performance and an even better process. I can honestly say that the Northwestern Freshman Musical was one of my favorite experiences of freshman year, and to this day, one of the best memories from my time at Northwestern so far.

Back in November of 2018, I had heard some upperclassmen talk about this thing called "The Freshman Musical." As I've talked about many times on BroadwayWorld, I am very involved in theatre on campus but I'm not a theatre major. Since I had only been at school for a short time, and was not enrolled in any theatre classes, I really didn't know any theatre kids yet. However, I knew this one girl, Lily, who lived in the room next to me in my dorm was studying theatre. I brought up the production to her one day in passing, and she excitedly explained that she also knew of the tradition. Typically, the student producers from the year prior would help pass it down to that year's freshman class. However, we realized that time was running out to get the ball going with this. As we hadn't heard of anything from last year's freshman about starting the team building and casting process, we decided that we would take it into our own hands and ensure that this tradition would not be lost on our grade. Right when we came back for our winter quarter in January, Lily took on the role of lead producer and together, we spearheaded the process of building a production and rehearsal room team. I officially joined the team as choreographer and assistant director, and soon, after signing on all freshman students in roles of a director, music director, co-producer, and stage manager, we chose our 2019 Freshman Musical Show: Legally Blonde the Musical.

BWW Blog: The Freshman MusicalAs the weeks in the quarter passed, my relationship with Lily quickly flourished into an incredible friendship that extended beyond the bounds of the show. In addition, I finally began feeling like I was a part of the Northwestern theatre community. I established friendships with many of the cast and team members, and started feeling more and more comfortable asking upperclassmen for advice on how to put this show together. I had spent the previous months assistant choreographing many student shows, but this was my first time having full autonomy over the show's choreography. The freshman musical can be a tricky process to navigate, especially when you are in an administrative role that requires you to teach and direct your peers. While it was my job to tell them what to do, I was also trying to build trust and new friendships with the castmates. We were all freshmen, and even though I was in this position of leadership, it didn't make me better than anyone else. To be honest, none of us really knew what we were doing. I wanted my peers to respect me and bring a strong work ethic into the room, but I also wanted to create a safe and fun environment that fostered trust and growth. Walking the line of being a teacher and a friend throughout the rehearsal process was undoubtedly a difficult balancing act, but one that was an incredible learning lesson and helped prepare me for my future productions at Northwestern.

BWW Blog: The Freshman MusicalTech week, which is the week leading up to the production, is usually what rehearsal teams dread. This is when the show finally comes together -- hair, makeup, music and all. You start to have an idea of whether this thing is going to be good or not. It's filled with late nights and high emotions. The Freshman Musical, per tradition, takes place in an academic hall on a lecture stage. It's only about eight feet deep, which I obviously loved as a choreographer (that's sarcasm -- it sucked). However, come Monday, Lily and I did a bit of a celebratory skip back to our dorm. It was only night one of tech week, and the run had gone pretty smoothly. We were so proud and excited to share what we had been working on this past year with our community. However, as it always goes, we were celebrating a little too quickly. Fast forward to Thursday night, dress rehearsal, the night before we opened. It was 6:30pm, 30 minutes past when we were supposed to start our run. The actors were sitting around in the audience, waiting to start our run, but most members of the rehearsal room had not arrived yet due to classes getting out late, the speakers weren't working, and our lead actress who played Elle Woods was in the hospital with Kidney Stones. Lily pulled me aside to inform me of the incident, and explained she was going to the hospital to make sure everything was okay with our friend playing Elle. I decided how best to communicate this with the cast without causing too much worry, and informed them that she was in the hospital but would 100% be okay for the show the next day. However, this was a lie, for we had no idea what state she would be in. For the next hour, when we should've been running the show, me and the other rehearsal room members planned out five different contingency plans for what would happen if she was unable to perform tomorrow. After our emergency meeting, we ended up getting mostly a full run in, and I stood in for Elle myself (which is quite funny if you've ever heard me sing).

The next day, by some miracle and crazy strength, our Elle preserved through the tremendous pain she was in and did all four performances that weekend. The show went off without a hitch (well, for the most part), and Lily and I stood in the back, dancing and singing along together, as we watched our baby of a musical that we had nurtured finally come alive. That weekend, I fell deeper in love with theatre, the creative process, and choreography more than I even knew possible. Watching the audience clap and shout while my friends executed my choreography on stage filled me with the utmost pride, joy and gratitude. It was at this moment I knew that I had found the perfect place to call my college home. We had the auditorium packed each night, and were able to create a performance that was the perfect balance of professionalism yet ridiculousness that the freshman musical should be.

BWW Blog: The Freshman MusicalMy heart goes out to those in the year below me who did not get to have the same freshman year experience. However, I along with the other Freshman Musical 2019 alum had a Zoom party to watch this year's virtual freshman year performance of Catch Me If You Can, and let me say, they did an incredibly awesome job. While the Northwestern community was bound by the barriers of our computer, 150 students engaged in a very active live Facebook chat as we all watched together, cheering the freshman on as they got their shot at the tradition.

I credit the Freshman Musical for so much of not just my first year college experience, but for helping me finally find my place at Northwestern. The experiences and relationships that I had throughout those months shaped me into a better person, artist, and student. I am forever grateful to my peers for trusting in me, to go to a school where I am surrounded by such talent and passion, and of course, to my friend Lily, for taking on this journey with me way back in November 2018.

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