GCU Theatre season: Sometimes things are more than they appear

"Shrek The Musical" is one of five upcoming productions at GCU.

Theatre can get a bad rap for being heavy.

As Shrek would say, "You know, Donkey, sometimes things are more than they appear."

That’s also Assistant Dean of Theatre and Dance Bill Symington’s message as the Grand Canyon University Theatre Department prepares for a season of five productions — including "Shrek the Musical" — that should connect with students, who may have seen the screen versions of the plays.

Bill Symington, Chair of Theatre, works on a set with a student.

“Theatre should be fun," he said. "We're here to take you on a ride and tell you a great story."

This year, his department will be building excitement between shows at Ethington Theatre, the first of which is “Murder on the Orient Express,” with events and activities prior to the shows. Those preshow activities could include an appearance by the playwright, novel author or director of the plays, game and trivia nights, or showings of the movie versions of the play to get people primed for the production.

“We really want people, students on campus especially, to come into the theatre. It’s not a scary place, it’s not a museum,” Symington said. “In all my time here, what I consistently hear is, ‘I’ve never been in that building.’ Almost no one could say I have never been in the Arena.

“Hey, can I cross that threshold and see what goes on in there? So we are trying to demystify it.”

In this 75th anniversary of GCU and its theatre productions, none of those performed in Ethington Theatre this season are repeats.

“This year we have a theme, essentially screen to stage. Everything we are presenting has been a movie, then a play, or a play then a movie,” he said. “They are features that young people will enjoy.”

Symington is particularly excited about the February production.

“Real Women Have Curves"
(Feb. 1-3, 9-11), Ethington Theatre

In this coming-of-age tale, Ana, who is working in a tiny sewing factory with other Latinas, wants to escape and become a famous writer. The play by Josefina Lopez, which became a 2002 movie staring America Ferrera (she's receiving raves for her role in the film “Barbie”), celebrates full-figured women and female power.

GCU graduate Bertha Cortes will direct it.

“For us, it’s important to show representation. All of the folks identify as Latinx,” said Symington, who is urging students of Latino heritage to audition. “It’s a great modern piece to tell.”

Plans are in the works to include those involved in the movie production in an event leading up to the stage production. It will be presented in partnership with Latino clubs on campus.

Another play is particularly timely.

“Murder on the Orient Express”
(Sept. 22-24, Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Ethington

The classic Agatha Christie murder mystery was a 2017 movie, and the follow-up adventures of detective Hercule Poirot, “Haunting in Venice,” is due out in the same month as GCU’s production.

GCU’s Michael Kary will direct the season-opener that tackles the mystery behind the death of an American tycoon, stabbed in the compartment of a luxurious train stopped in its tracks by a snowstorm.

“It’s great having an Agatha Christie play in the year another Agatha Christie movie comes out,” Symington said. “It’s a whodunit where people are guessing, with clever sets and period costumes from the 1920s.”

If that’s not fun enough, it’s followed by a real green crowd-pleaser.

“Shrek The Musical”
(Nov. 10-12, 17-19), Ethingthon Theatre

The musical based off the 2001 DreamWorks animated film “Shrek” is one that many people probably saw growing up.

All the beloved characters from the film, including the green ogre named Shrek and sidekick Donkey, are featured in the stage version to the beat of songs from Jeanine Tesori and to the storyline of an unlikely hero who shows that beauty is in the eye of the ogre.

“It’s a childhood favorite of so many kids. I know my daughter in her second year of college is excited about seeing it,” said Symington of the Cindy Calhoun-directed production. “Not only will students relive their childhood, but a lot of families and staff should come and bring the whole family.”

Another childhood favorite awaits in the spring.

“Tuck Everlasting”
(March 15-17, 22-24), Ethingthon Theatre

Claude Pensis, in his 40th year at GCU, directs this musical, based off the best-selling children’s classic novel by Natalie Babbitt and the 2002 film.

It’s the story of 11-year-old Winnie Foster, yearning for adventure while becoming entwined with the Tuck family, who reveal their magic behind an everlasting life. She faces the choice of returning to her life or continuing on the infinite journey.

“It’s sweet and very beautiful,” said Symington, who added that they also expect to bring in those involved in the movie for an event prior to the production.

The season includes a drama outside the confines of Ethington.

“12 Angry Jurors”
(Dec. 1-3), Black Box Theatre

Based on the Emmy-winning television movie by Reginald Rose, it’s the story of a man standing trial for the fatal stabbing of his father. It looks like an open-and-shut case until deliberations begin among jurors, who reveal their own characters.

“It’s such an important piece that talks about understanding, how we listen to and understand other people, and challenges us to see eye to eye,” Symington said.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]


Related content:

GCU News: Ethington Theatre scores 6 ariZoni Awards

GCU News: Theatre professor Claude Pensis stages his 40th year at GCU


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Bible Verse

Jesus taught his disciples, saying: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

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