Backstage look at ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

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Mylena Ferman

Florida Southern theater students rehearsed Wednesday, Feb. 6, days before tech week began, for Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS) in the Buckner Theater in preparation of opening night.

Cassidy Cheshire and Christian Mortimer play the lead roles as Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ, respectively, while other students play various biblical roles or help out backstage.

JCS is a popular Broadway show despite the original controversy it stirred. According to a New York Times article from 1971, numerous Christians, at the time, considered the musical blasphemy; some Jews were worried about the Jewish characters being portrayed as a “Christ killer.” In spite of this controversy, JCS has become a beloved part of the musical theater canon.

“I think it will probably receive criticism, no matter who is Jesus, or what decisions they make,”  Mortimer said. “I think that everyone is going to criticize something about it because everyone has their own views of Jesus.”

The theater department students were energetic throughout the entire night of rehearsal, bantering with one another as if in a familial environment. The cast, full of students who enjoyed working on theater productions, seemed engaged and ready throughout the entire rehearsal process.

Cheshire spoke of the traditional take the FSC theater department was taking.

“I think a lot of the recent productions have done more modernized versions of it, and we’re doing it very traditionally scenic wise, and costume wise, and things like that,” Cheshire said. “So, I think, it’s just kind of going to transport the audience back to this time period, hopefully, and really put into perspective, like, what Jesus had to go through.” Cheshire, a junior musical theater and psychology double major, said.

Sound designer Michael Vozzella, known as “Mike” on-set, is a sophomore technical theater major. His role in bringing the script to life is creating a blend of actors’ voices and sound effects to create the best and most realistic sounds possible. His commitment to sound immersion for the audience had him searching for 39 different lashing sounds for a particular song. He found that the hardest aspect of the play was to keep track and control of 29 different microphones. While working he finds that he enjoys small aspects of his job others may not notice.

“My favorite part is when everything goes together and everything sounds beautiful and it’s art in your ears,” Vozzella said.

The entire set was made with handcrafted articles created to resemble stone-made flooring and steps. The shop foremen and carpenters work about three hours a day for four and a half weeks in order to finish building and painting the set from the ground floor up.

Senior Brian Seckfort, a carpenter for the production, explained that the design was a difficult one with various levels which really challenges the shop. They utilize all the time they have, though they were ahead of schedule and needed just a few more finishing details.

“It’s really cool to sit back and just suddenly be like, yeah, everything starts to take shape like what we imagined it to be,” Seckfort said.

Stephen Lunsford, a senior technical theater major,  not only helps Seckfort in building the stage; he additionally has a role as a lighting designer. He uses the lighting in the production to bring more emotion to the songs. So far, he and other crew members have been setting up lights, some newly bought, for the three hours that they work. JSC is one of the more detailed productions: it has over 400 light cues.  Additionally, there are some eerie moments within the production he is excited to work on.

“I think telling this story, for me, because it’s hard to imagine what stuff is like until I visually see it,” Lunsford said. “So, doing stuff on paper is different than what I interpret.”

The entire production is overseen by Lily Archambault, a senior double major in technical theater and theater performance. Her role as stage manager is to make the production process as smooth as possible. In order to do so, she is in charge of many things and finds it difficult at first to multitask and compartmentalize everything. In her view, Nic Jankowski, who she describes as kind, is the most different from his character, King Herod, a more vicious character within the play.

“Getting to work with all different kinds of people is pretty fascinating,” Archambault said. “I mean, you learn so much and I get to be a part of the entirety of the process.”

“I love this show,” Cheshire said. “And I love the cast. And I think anyone who comes and sees it is definitely going to be moved by it. And that’s what we all hope.”

The production opened Feb. 14 and will be shown during various times on the weekends of Feb. 15 and Feb. 22 and tickets are available free for students at the Buckner Box Office.

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