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The Music(al) Man: An Interview with Scott Gagnon

Professor Scott Gagnon has been involved with the Performing Arts Department here at Emmanuel for over 16 years. With some incredible shows behind him, including the very successful Dangerous Liaisons this past semester, he’s excited for everything that’s still to come. Listen in as HCE team members Sammy Martin and Christina Listro get the inside scoop on the upcoming spring musical, as well as the entire next season!

CL: Hi Scott! Could you tell us a little bit about your history at Emmanuel College, specifically with the Performing Arts Department?

SG: I’ve been here since the fall of 1999, teaching and directing. I came onboard as a full-time member of the faculty in 2000 and began chairing the department just a couple of years ago, taking over for Dr. [Tom] Schnauber. I’ve been happy to have been able to direct and/or produce well over 40 productions here, many of them student directed and some of them directed by myself, of course. I’ve [been able] to teach courses such as the History of the American Musical, Theater History & Appreciation, as well as acting courses, design courses, directing courses… All sorts of things like that. It’s a real pleasure. It’s a job that I truly love, and I think the best part about it is the students and interacting with them on a daily basis.

SM: That’s great! Seeing as it is finals week, how were your classes this semester?

SG: I was just remarking [to Christina] how enjoyable they all were. I just finished up with a large class of the History of the American Musical, and everyone in it was great to work with and to teach and talk to. I’m looking forward to grading all the finals that they just took. The other course that I had was a playwriting course, and it generated a lot of fascinating original student plays. We had new writing from students. We had a recent public reading of the students work, which other people came to and were able to help us out with reading new students plays aloud. It was really exciting to generate new work like that.

SM: Nice! Speaking of the students, how is for you to see so many student-directed shows go up here? What’s that like for you?

SG: Well, I think it’s an honor to know this many students are out there. Directing is a great art form. I think it’s a wonderful form of student expression. I also think there’s a lot of things people learn from working on a student play: working toward a deadline, teamwork, again with historical research, planning… There are a lot of things which I think student-directed plays prepare students with skills that are applicable in a lot of other fields.

SM: I agree. You just finished a great show this semester that had some very exciting things happen for it. Can you tell me more about Dangerous Liaisons?

SG: Yeah, we are all very excited! We pulled off a very challenging historical drama. I think audiences we very receptive to it. The students had come to me initially and said, “We want to work on a challenging show,” and I think we did just that. I’m particularly pleased with all the student artistic work on the costumes, on the historical research, and everything through that. And, as you [referenced], we were held for consideration by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. That means when certain shows are outstanding, they consider them for possibly being performed in encore presentation at their annual festive. We were not able to bring the show to their annual festival, so that part did not go through, but we were honored to be considered and we were happy to be held over. But, yeah, I think we had a tremendous success with it. I’m very proud of what all the students were able to do with it.

Scott (center) surrounded by the cast of Dangerous Liasisons

CL: Looking to next semester, can you talk a little bit about the upcoming Mainstage musical?

SG: Next year’s musical is probably not a title that people will recognize, but I feel the material in it people will certainly know about. The title is A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. It’s sort of a double feature. The first half, titled A Day in Hollywood, is a tribute to the golden age of cinema, particularly movies of the 1930s and their music. So there’s a lot of tap dancing. You’ll here song like “Over the Rainbow,” “Thanks for the Memory,” and “Hooray for Hollywood,” and a lot of stuff like that. Act Two is a reenactment of a Marx Brothers film, so it is in fact a ‘30s movie. A lot of Marx Brothers movies were called things like A Night at the Opera or A Day at the Races. This one happens to be called A Night in the Ukraine, the “Ukraine” part being that what they’ve chosen to do is take a comedy play that was written by Anton Chekov and restage it as a Marx Brothers piece. And that half is a musical as well with some very funny songs. I think audiences are going to think it’s a lot of fun. It’s very funny, and I think some of our older audiences are going to be very nostalgic for some of the nice, old-fashioned, old time movie magic.

SM: Sounds fun! So what’s your process like when you choose shows for the season?

SG: It’s very complicated. We’re very lucky sometimes to get these shows because they have to do so many things. You know, you have to know your audience. You have to know what they want to see. You have to work with the talent you have. You have to say to yourself, who are the students who are likely to want to be a part of this? Is this a show they would be interested in doing? And then there’s the part of it where you say, well, where are you as an artist? What kind of play do you feel you could present effectively as a director? I’ve been very lucky where all of those things have always had a confluence. We’ve kind of always had a play that’s right for our group, right for our audience, and in my opinion, a good play time and time again. It’s always a struggle, but we manage.

SM: For all those not in the Theater Department, can you give any sneak peeks for next season to “the general public”?

SG: [Laughs] Everything that we have coming up is very subject to rights acquisition and several other factors. So our seasons get announced and they change a little bit. But, I know that there are at least three students who would like to direct shows. We could be looking at an update on the Cinderella fairy tale, a Shakespeare play, and a sort of goofball comedy about, actually, behind-the-scenes of the theater. As far as our Mainstage productions, I have one that’s a very unusual project: a drama that dates back to the 1920s, a drama classic. And the other piece is a Disney piece. I think that’s the one everybody’s going to want to know about. Right now, we are investigating the rights to a major Disney musical. We can’t really guarantee anything until we secure those rights, but that’s where we stand. This is the time of year where we try to apply for those things, get the paperwork done, but there should be something for everyone in the upcoming season. It’s very exciting.

CL: Very! Final question: what’s a piece of advice you would like to give to students?

SG: For any students, I think the most important thing that I tell students all the time [is] to get involved. If [theater] isn’t your thing—and I completely respect that—come see us nonetheless. Come see a show. I think you get out of college what you put into it and if you’re homesick, if you’re depressed, if you’re stressed and anxious, I think that one thing you can do that helps is get yourself into an organization or a club or a group or an activity that has other people around you. You make connections very quickly that way, and I know in some cases, like the theater, you make some wonderful friends that wind up being a big part of your life.

Great advice! Thanks so much for the interview Scott!

Sammy is a senior at Emmanuel College, majoring in English: Communications & Media Studies with a minor in Music-Theater. She discovered Her Campus through College Fashion Week: Boston, and has since re-launched Emmanuel's chapter and become a National Intern. On campus, Sammy gives weekly tours as an Admissions Ambassador, is a member of the Honors Program and stars in an as many theatrical productions as possible. She was also an Orientation Leader for the Class of 2019. Outside of school, she works as a sales associate at Charlotte Russe and manages a personal style blog called Backyard Beauty. An obsessive organizer, social media addict and fashion maven, Sammy dreams of living a lavish life as a magazine contributor in New York City after graduation. Follow her on Twitter @sammysays19 and Instagram @backyardbeautyxo or visit backyardbeautyxo.tumblr.com/.
Christina Listro is a Junior at Emmanuel College majoring in Theatre Arts and Liberal Studies as well as getting her certificate in Italian.
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