Ethington season welcomes audiences back indoors
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
The wait is finally over – Ethington Theatre is back!
After a 16-month hiatus without a performance taking place on the indoor stage, the zip ties on the seats officially have been cut off. The move comes just in time as the College of Fine Arts and Production (COFAP) prepares for another highly anticipated theatre and dance season.
“Last year outdoors was really great in a lot of ways, but we could only seat around 50 people,” COFAP Assistant Dean of Theatre and Dance William Symington said. “Thousands of people streamed the show and that was great, but having 300 in a room is a really fun experience. I know that the students are excited to return to that.
“I just want to welcome people back, and we picked the season that we did for that very reason. We want it to be really fun, full of laughter and energy and to share that human experience.”
Thus a “Welcome Back” theme was solidified for the 2021-22 season.
“I think it’s going to be just a really enjoyable season,” Symington said. “I can’t wait to get back in the theatre and feel that energy between the cast and the audience.”
The outdoor stage, constructed to offer a safe alternative for live performances during the pandemic, can be used for a number of different performing arts events this academic school year. Symington said that the outdoor stage provides “a ton of possibilities” for musical performances, improv, dance, etc.
The return to indoor performances at Grand Canyon University also welcomes back a beloved staple of theatre that was put on hold during the pandemic – musicals. With multiple musicals scheduled, it is the perfect season to kick off the college’s new Musical Theatre minor, set to begin in the fall.
From musicals to comedies to dramas, there is something for everyone this season.
Here are the performances audiences can look forward to this season:
“THE MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940” – Sept. 3-5 and 10-12:
Kicking off the season, John Bishop’s musical murder mystery is bound to catch the attention of both comedy and musical fans.
“It’s a hilarious kind of spoof of those classic murder mystery shows,” Symington said. “It’s really funny, silly and very physical.”
Beginning with the murder of three chorus girls, who had previously starred in the same Broadway flop, by a mysterious Stage Door Slasher, the creative team for the production auditions for a future show.
Taking place at a Westchester estate full of secret passageways, sliding panels and a suspicious German maid, the killer sets his eyes on his potential future victims.
“They use every old trope on purpose,” Symington said. “I think it’s going to be a really fun, flashy way to open the season.”
The production will be directed by GCU acting instructor Michael Kary.
The performance originally was slotted to be part of the 2020-21 theatre season, but COVID-19 precautions and the use of the outdoor stage prevented the cast and crew from implementing some of the key elements necessary to tell the story.
“One reason we could not do that particular show last season was that we just needed to turn the lights out, and we can’t turn the lights out outside,” Kary said. “It was just this one simple, really easy rudimentary thing that kept us from telling that story effectively.”
Now that indoor performances are back, the play was the perfect piece to celebrate all that has been overcome in the past year.
“It will be great as the first show back,” he said.
“RADIUM GIRLS” – Oct. 8-10 and 15-17:
As the only drama of the season, D.W. Gregory’s play — based on the true story from the late 1920s — adds an emotional edge to the season.
While painting watch dials, employees begin to fall ill because of the radioactivity of the glow in the dark material, and some even succumbed to their illnesses. The story follows dial painter Grace Fryer as she fights to bring the issue to court.
“There are times when industry can get ahead of science,” said the director, COFAP Dean Claude Pensis. “This is one of those cases. They discover this new material can illuminate watch dials in the dark, and they figure out how to use it before science has really figured out the ramifications.”
It’s a cautionary message, presented in a way meant to keep audiences engaged.
“While it’s sad, it really talks about how they finally got justice and how that was discovered,” Symington said. “It’s a very personal, deep story about what the women went through in the late ’20s.
“It’s an incredible play. I think it’s a really great piece that’s beautifully written.”
“ADDAMS FAMILY” – Nov. 19-21 and 26-28:
Wrapping up the tail end of the Halloween season, COFAP will bring Charles Addams’ classic characters to the stage. The musical is based on the book written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.
With the huge impact the characters have had on pop culture, it’s set to bring a sense of nostalgia and fun for the whole family.
“I grew up watching ‘The Addams Family,’” said Kary, who will be directing the production. “I think I have seen every episode like three or four times. The show itself is really sweet and talks a lot about family, honesty, how to be a parent and how to be a child.”
With the character’s iconic dark and macabre world, the performance also offers a uniquely spooky and fun opportunity for set design and costumes.
“The costumes and the scenery will be amazing, beautiful and unusual,” Symington said. “It hits right about Halloween time, so I’m so excited for that kind of energy at that time of the year.”
WINTER DANCE CONCERT: “EMERGE” – Dec. 10-12:
Just like theatre, there is no shortage of excitement for the dance concerts to make their grand return to Ethington Theatre. The theme “Emerge” symbolizes the department’s ability to emerge out of the past year stronger than before.
“I know a lot of people talk about returning to normal, and I really don’t think that that is an accurate description of what’s going to be happening,” said Bekki Price, Director of Dance. “We have this new normal, or really how I like to think about it is the concept of emerging out of this past year.
“We’ve learned a lot, we’ve grown a lot. As dancers, we really value the visceral experience of dance and human connection.”
The performance will mark a return to indoor concerts with a renewed appreciation for the things that were missed throughout the pandemic.
“Our dancers are really excited to be back on the stage in Ethington,” Price said.
“THE LADY’S NOT FOR BURNING” – Feb. 11-13 and 18-20:
With the absence of Shakespeare this season, what could be better than a romantic comedy set in the 14th century?
Christopher Fry’s romantic comedy follows the character of Thomas, a world-weary discharged soldier, and his request to be hanged after falsely claiming two murders he did not commit. After being denied, Thomas grows increasingly frustrated as he falls in love with an innocent woman, named Jennet, who is set to be hanged for witchcraft.
The performance highlights the pair’s journey, filled with plot twists and finding romance in unexpected places.
“She convinces Thomas that life is indeed worth living,” said Pensis, who will direct the performance. “It’s a really clever, wonderful rom com.”
It is a performance especially meaningful to Symington.
“I was in it in college,” he said. “I played kind of this dumb brother. That’s the idea behind it — everyone who’s trying to accuse her (Jennet) is not very smart, and she and this one other character are very smart.
“I think it’s going to be a good time.”
“JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT” – April 1-3 and 8-10:
In the final theatre performance of the season, Tim Rice’s classic — based on the biblical story of Joseph — will take the stage.
The performance tells the tale of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, and the jealousy he encounters from his 11 brothers. That jealousy leads to a plot to kill Joseph that resulted in having him be sold into slavery.
A series of events end up bringing the brothers back together, ultimately mending their relationships.
“It’s such an important Christian message,” Symington said. “It’s kind of the big celebration for the year.
“I think the biblical connection, that celebratory big musical, it’s just going to be such a wonderful way to close out coming back to the theatre. I would love to see everyone at the University come and see it.”
SPRING DANCE CONCERT: “TESTIMONY” – April 22-24:
Human resilience within the power of the testimony is the central theme around the final dance performance of the season.
“The College of Fine Arts, this year, is really looking to tell our story, and so this concert is about our program and our students,” Price said.
The production will take the audience on a journey through the performers’ story and the impact it has on the rest of the world.
Both dance concerts will feature work from several new faculty members as well as pieces from a residency artist.
“It’s going to be an incredible year,” Price said.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].