On to Act II

CULTURE:  Director Matt Murphy discusses the wrapped Once on This Island and the future of the the East Theatre company.

For the final time, the cast of Once on This Island dances out of the Black Box with smiles on their faces. For some students, this is the first time they have closed a production, and it’s an odd feeling. But the one who feels the most conflicted is the most experienced man in the room.

“It always feels a little sad,” says Matt Murphy. “It feels, simultaneously, really good, because it’s a good product, but then you kind of feel sad because you think, ‘Oh, there’s so much more that I would’ve liked to think about.’”

The choice of what production to do often falls to Murphy, but for the fall play he decided to go against tradition and have a musical in the Black Box. “The decision was made through conversations with kids that are really passionate about putting on shows. Nawlege Brewington and Reginald (Porter) were both very excited about doing it. When you have kids that are demanding it, it’s smart to listen.”

“We had to do this show to heal old wounds, mend broken spirits, and reenergize souls of kids. Kids who for too long have been told they were not smart enough to accomplish such a tremendous amount of work.”

In his Director’s Notes, Nawledge speaks on the process of bringing such a unique show to East, “The majority were upset that we were doing a show that was about black people in a Caribbean island, rather than a show that would be able to encompass all different types of people. A show that could have a ‘colorblind cast.’ They were confused how we would even be able to put on this type of show seeing as, ‘East doesn’t have enough people of color to put on a show with a black cast.’” He continues, “We had to do this show to heal old wounds, mend broken spirits, and reenergize souls of kids. Kids who for too long have been told they were not smart enough to accomplish such a tremendous amount of work.”

While the strain of doing two musicals a year can be trying, East Theatre Company (ETC) managed to put on a vibrant and fun celebration of culture in only a few months, and they are already working on the next step. “The spring musical will be Pippin, and it’s a beautiful musical. It tells the story of a young man searching to find his purpose. It’s a travelling theater troupe that puts on the show,” Murphy teases. “We’re thinking about who we need to hire to help, and the set, and all that stuff.”    

Pippin will open Feb. 28, 2019, but before then, there are smaller free events that students can attend to support the company. Murphy encourages students to come to open mic events in the Black Box. “Anyone can sign up and perform.  We’ll try to theme them so that they have some sort of continuity,” he explains. But there is one thing in particular he wants students to know about. “I think the coolest thing that we do, truly, is senior projects. Senior Drama, if you get in that class, second semester you direct a one-act play. You direct it, you produce it, you cast it. All with student actors, student designers, student performances – it’s all student run.”

“It has all the magic.”

When asked about what productions might be farther down the road, two shows in particular were brought up, “I’d like to do Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett because I was in that show in college, and it totally changed my life, it was awesome. And another show called Sign Man. It’s about some jazz musicians, it’s a really beautiful play,” Murphy said.

Underclassmen will have these potential shows to look forward to, and Murphy encourages them to get involved, whoever they are. “What’s cool about theatre is that it encompasses everything: from acting, dancing, singing, to art literally design, to writing. It has all the magic. And we have a thriving art department at this school, and the theatre is really awesome, the kids are really committed, and there’s really beautiful work that happens on the Black Box and on the stage. People are constantly creating, and it’s fun.”