How GCU classes impacted Phoenix Theatre show

GCU alumni Abbi Cavanaugh (left) and Tarnim Bybee (second from left) were part of the ensemble in "Something Rotten!" at Phoenix Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Reg Madison Photography/The Phoenix Theatre Company)

By Cassandra Coria
GCU News Bureau

The recent performances of “Something Rotten!” at Phoenix Theatre featured the work of five Grand Canyon University alumni and one current student.

Ryan Ardelt

But the work of their GCU instructors was on display, too.

Michael Kary, our acting coach, really helped me out a lot,” said Ryan Ardelt, a 2021 graduate who majored in theatre and minored in dance. “One thing he is really big about is audition prep. Honestly, that audition prep help from him was really helpful in transferring to the professional world and not being afraid of it and not being confused or overwhelmed by the professional environment.

“I felt like I was practicing essentially everything I was doing at GCU.”

Asked what her most important classes at GCU were, 2019 grad Tarnim Bybee didn’t hesitate.

Michael Kary directs Brandon Brown during Brown's time at GCU. 

“Acting 1 and 2 with Michael Kary,” Bybee said. “I remember taking Acting 1 my freshman year, and that blew my mind because I was coming from high school, and I didn’t know anything technical about acting.”

GCU tap dance instructor Suzy Guarino-Hall also made an impact on the alumni cast in the show.

“I loved Suzy’s classes in college. The skills that she taught in class, like learning the material quickly and setting the foundation, were absolutely crucial in what we can do now,” Bybee said.

During their time as students, some classes came with set assumptions. And then there were the surprises.

Suzy Guarino-Hall's tap dance classes were a big help to the alumni, too.

“Pilates!” Ardelt said. “My Pilates class that I had to take my first semester of my senior year. It actually turned out to be one of the most valuable classes I ever took. That class changed my life. I fixed my posture, I learned how to warm up properly, I learned all these things that you need in the professional world just from that body class.

“I was like, whatever, I have to take this class, but I really loved it. GCU has all these classes in the dance program that you think, ‘Oh, whatever,’ but learning basic technique, even though it can feel repetitive, can really help in consistency and longevity in a professional career.”

Said Guarino-Hall, “The cool thing is a lot of these kids come in, they were looking to become better and be successful. One of the things is tap dance. I’m super proud that a handful took tap dance. It’s kinda cool the kids learned enough to go out, tap and audition for a professional theatre like Phoenix Theatre. I am super excited these kids got this opportunity to represent GCU and the dance company.”

Tarnim Bybee (left) and Micah Larsen were part of the cast for the Ethington Theatre production of "Godspell" in 2019.

Other GCU alumni in the ensemble were Abbi Cavanaugh (2020) and Brandon Brown (2021). Behind the scenes were Micah Larsen (2020), the light board operator, and senior Nick Boisvert, who worked on the deck crew.

“The fact that we have four (actors) in their show says a great deal,” Kary said.

Said Dr. Craig Detweiler, Dean of the College of Arts and Media, “I thoroughly enjoyed seeing our grads shine in this rollicking show. It is so encouraging to see how well our classes and productions prepared them to be polished professionals.”

“Something Rotten!” is a musical comedy set during the Renaissance in England in the 1590s. The Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, are trying to write a play but are outshined by William Shakespeare. Nick, in desperation, goes to a soothsayer to speed up their success.

With the combination of glitter, bright lights and tap dancing, the musical comedy earned a standing ovation before the show was halfway over. It was a welcome sight after the pandemic left something rotten in the community.

Nick Boisvert (left) has been cast in multiple Ethington Theatre productions but was part of the crew for the Phoenix Theatre show.

“This kind of show is exactly what people need to see after such a difficult two years,” Cavanaugh said. “People need to sit and relax and laugh.”

They were able to do that, in part, because of the technical skills that were essential for the show. Boisvert explained their importance:

“The most important thing is just to understand that the main aspects of the show do not move unless you do so. At times, I’m running between stations, and I think any person who is looking to do deck crew needs to understand that they have a level of responsibility that one wouldn’t initially think about.

Abbi Cavanaugh

“Theatre is such a unique art form because it’s one of the few art forms where so many people contribute. There are definitely grueling days in any production, but there will always be a time where you will look back on it and realize that no matter what your position is, you helped make something really beautiful.”

“Something Rotten!” was choreographed by Eric Sciotto, who was in the ensemble of the original Broadway show. That made for high expectations, but the GCU alums took them on happily.

“This is what I dreamed of doing all my life – performing and dancing, which is just a dream come true,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s really special. Theatre is such a unique thing.”

Tarnim Bybee

But it all goes back to what they learned while on campus.

“I think the theatre program, we go through so many vulnerabilities together,” Bybee said. “Our theatre classes, you get vulnerable. You take chances and it’s scary sometimes, and I think that’s the process we all go through that just bonds us so deeply. It means a lot to perform professionally.”


Related content:

GCU Today: Faculty Focus: Michael Kary

GCU Today: Dance instructor brings tap-infused mystery to stage


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