Student Theatre Project: New shows and new ideas for a new semester

Nathan Janzen, Arts and Entertainment Editor

In its October 2020 issue, the Lumen published an article detailing the Student Theatre Initiative, a student-led group born out of the pandemic. At the time, its goal was to create new opportunities for Viterbo students to retake the stage despite the shuttering of the Fine Arts Center and the complete cancellation of the 2020 season. Now, more than a year later, the organization has gone through several important changes that merit a substantial update. Amidst all of the renovation and innovation, students can be assured that the club’s mission has not changed, nor have its efforts diminished alongside COVID’s immediate threat. 

Now titled the Student Theatre Project—to the great relief of students—the organization is funded by the Student Government Association, making it an official member of Viterbo’s Student Clubs and Organizations. This official status also allows casts and crews to publicize their performances on campus and Viterbo social media channels. In this way, the Project can continue to find new and exciting ways to bring theatre opportunities back to campus, in both content and delivery. 

The STP’s spring season consists of two major performances: one-night showings of two productions. The first, which was held in the Nola Starling Recital Hall on April 9, is “Puffs”, also known as “Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic.” The play, conceived by Matt Cox in 2015, is a comedic retelling of the wildly popular Harry Potter book and movie series. “Puffs” builds upon an existing tradition of Potter parodies created in the final film’s wake, one popular example being “A Very Potter Musical,” another off-Broadway production.  

What is most unique about “Puffs” is its retelling of J.K. Rowling’s story from the perspective of what Potter fans will recognize as the group she endowed with the least plot relevance, known as “Puffs” in the show. The “Seven Years” mentioned in the title is a nod to the original seven-book series, whose events the play generally follows.  

The second of these Viterbo debuts is a production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Classified as a “rock opera,” the musical is the 1970s brainchild of the writer for “Phantom of the Opera” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Ironically, it utilizes the same dramatic function as “Puffs”: telling a familiar story from a different perspective. The plot of “Jesus Christ Superstar” largely features the perspective of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples who ends up betraying him to the Pharisees. The musical follows major events of Jesus’ life and his crucifixion, including his cleansing of the Temple of Jerusalem, the Last Supper, and, famously, his contemplation in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Overall, the Student Theatre Project is not only bringing new works to the campus stage, but also unique ideas. The production of “Puffs,” for instance, featured “pay what you can” ticketing, which allowed attendees who had previously signed up via the organization’s website to pay any amount—including nothing—to enter. On April 1, a week before opening, “Puffs” Assistant Director, sophomore Emma Phillips, noted that the group had already sold 70 of its 170 seats. Just one reason behind this could have been the show’s unique addition of audience interaction. According to the STP Instagram page, “Puffs” attendees were asked to bring personal items such as “Clean Sheets” and “A Funky Hat” to help the performers act out the nearly two-hour show.  

Information on “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the unique ideas it will bring with its production are forthcoming. Undoubtedly, the Student Theatre Project will continue to innovate and celebrate, providing entertainment for the Viterbo community for many years to come.