Bringing theater outdoors: ‘Once On This Island’ musical premieres at amphitheater

Lacey Alexander

Staff Writer

Troy’s theater department will be presenting its first production on the amphitheater stage behind the New Residence Hall beginning Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m.

“This show is extremely theatrical—it has themes and imagery that tie in very closely with nature,” said Tommy Newman, lecturer of musical theater and playwriting. “I felt that it would be beautiful to tell this story in this brand new, gorgeous space. . . it all works together very well.”

“Once On This Island,” a musical retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid,” is a one-act musical by nationally-acclaimed writing team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

Newman, director for the play, said the show was a perfect candidate for an outdoor production.

“We’ve never done that before, so that was a huge risk and a fun challenge to overcome,” Newman said. “It’s a new space . . . anytime that you are met with new parameters it takes some adjusting, but I think our team has attacked it with enthusiasm.”

Janice Hawkins, the park’s namesake and Troy’s first lady, said she was excited to be attending the show’s final dress rehearsal on Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled beyond words,” Hawkins said. “This is why we worked so hard to have this beautiful facility. . . so that people can come see performances like what we’re about to see this weekend.”

Chanda Hawthorne, the show’s costume designer, said this process was new and challenging for her.

“Designing for an outdoor venue is much more challenging than designing for an indoor venue,” said Hawthorne, a senior theater major from Jay, Florida. “I ran into the issue of actor comfort and safety. . . another problem is having the costumes be distinct enough to show up in a venue that rivals opera stage distance.”

To make the costumes appropriate for the peasant characters in the ensemble, Hawthorne had to go through a process called “distressing” on each piece of clothing to make it look ragged and heavily used.

“We use fabric dye, spray paint and fabric paint to create the dirty and worn effect on the costumes, and use scissors to shred the costume pieces,” Hawthorne said. “This usually takes several days with a cast as large as the ‘Once On This Island’ cast.”

The story of the musical follows an islander peasant girl, Ti Moune, as she falls in love with Daniel, the son of a wealthy family. Sharing the stage with her are four gods, who each represent a different part of Moune’s journey: earth, water, love and death.

“I fell in love with the story after a student introduced me to the score,” Newman said. “It has a rather compelling narrative about what it means to be an outsider, and the responsibility we all have to practice acceptance.”

Jermaine Van Buren, who plays antagonist and god of death “Papa Ge,” said this was his first time playing a villain.

“It has been a different experience,” said Van Buren, a freshman theater major from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “Stepping into the culture of this world and the mythologies surrounding this character was definitely interesting and very rewarding.”

The show will run through Sunday, each show starting at 7 p.m. General seated admission is $5, and patrons wishing to bring chairs and blankets to sit on the grass area can purchase a $1 ticket at the door. Tickets can be purchased in the Trojan Center Box Office.

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