Just getting through a semester with decent grades and an adequate sleep schedule would be a victory for most college students. Yet, a group of students has pushed themselves beyond the typical to follow their passions and perform for the public.
Off Off-Broadway is a student run musical theater organization at the University of South Carolina that produces at least one show a semester. The organization performs both licensed musicals and original works written by group members. It was founded by non-theater majors with the desire to give those interested in performance, but not pursuing a professional acting career, the opportunity to participate in theater.
For the spring 2018 semester, Off Off-Broadway is presenting Into the Woods. The play follows a childless baker and his wife as they try to lift their family curse, encountering several classic fairytale characters on the way. Yet all is not as simple as it seems, as the characters must learn the responsibility that comes with getting what you want and that niceness does not guarantee a happy ending.
Himabindu Vinnakota, Erica Rauschenbach and Abi M. Rasch are the directors of Into the Woods. The three sat down with Her Campus SC to discuss the production process.
Her Campus South Carolina: How long have you been involved with Off Off-Broadway?
Erica Rauschenbach: I am currently in my fourth semester.
Abi M. Rasch: This is my second semester.
Hima Vinnakota: This is my eighth semester of Off Off-Broadway! I’ve been in Off Off-Broadway throughout my entire college experience. I also currently hold the position of president for the organization.
HCSC: Can you tell me a little about what goes into putting on a show? How long does it take from the first meeting to opening night? How many people are involved in a show like this?
HV: There are many aspects to putting on a show, especially a licensed musical. This is only the second time Off Off-Off Broadway has done a licensed show in the eight semesters I have been a member. The last time was the Spring of 2015 when we put on the musical 9 to 5. Not only are the costs incredibly expensive to obtain the necessary rights, but the production also requires much more effort from all of the committees. We picked the show at the end of last semester and began planning a little bit over winter break after positions had been elected. We cast the show the second to last weekend of January, and began rehearsals the first week of February. Opening night will be April 12th, so the whole process is more than four months. Having a longer process allows us more flexibility in working around people’s schedules for classes, work, and other commitments as much as we can. Into the Woods has a large cast and crew, and ours is made up of over 30 people.
HCSC: What made you want to direct?
HV: I have experience directing, from Off Off-Broadways’s show in the Fall of 2016. It is challenging, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding experience. These two lovely ladies [Abi and Erica] expressed interest in directing, and I wanted to offer my help having had some experience and knowing that Into the Woods will be incredibly challenging, especially for first-time directors.
AR: I’ve been doing theater since middle school and I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to performing, but I have always loved the creative process. Directing gives me a chance to be involved in all aspects of the production.
ER: I have been interested in directing for a while, and when we decided to do Into the Woods, I knew this was a show I would love to be really involved in as more than just a cast member! The whole process has been great and I’m excited to see everyone improve and grow in their characters.
HCSC: What has been the greatest challenge in directing so far?
ER: Definitely dealing with large groups of people, especially when I have little to no formal training in teaching music. But, I try to get input from cast members that are very supportive and helpful, and of course Hima is absolutely amazing and great at teaching music.
HCSC: There has been a greater push in recent years to have more women direct or in other creative management positions. Do you think it’s important to have more women involved in directing and if so, why?
HV: YES! Especially in theatre, where women make up the majority of the consumer base, it is incredibly important that their perspectives are present. Directing is a large leadership role, as well, and it is always important to see more diversity in leadership.
AR: I feel like a lot of shows aren’t written by women or give an accurate portrayal of women, so having a female director allows for a feminist influence in shows.
HCSC: Theater companies often choose to perform certain plays based upon their relevance to the current times. How do you think Into the Woods is relevant for today’s world?
HV: Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals of all time because I always find a new lesson whenever I visit it. The fairytales make it easily accessible to a broad audience, and Sondheim and Lapine use these stories to then check and make us reevaluate our understandings of these characters. These characters are not either good or bad. I think it goes to show that sharp divisions like that are not true. The famous song “No One Is Alone” captures this sentiment well in the lyric “Witches can be right, giants can be good, you decide what’s right, you decide what’s good.” The characters are learning about their prejudices and if/how they can align their actions with their morals and their wishes. That is an incredibly difficult process, and I would argue, especially important in a time where people are so divided.
HCSC: Why should someone be interested in seeing Off Off-Broadway’s production of Into the Woods?
HV: This is probably one of the only times you will get to see a production of Into the Woods for free. We are not charging admission for our show, so there’s no cost barrier to seeing it! Our production is also filled with people who love musical theatre and are having a lot of fun in the show.
AR: This is a show that some larger companies with large budgets and big stages won’t even do, and we are doing it with college kids and a small black box theater. You’re never gonna see another production of Into the Woods just like this one.
ER: There is a really talented cast and everyone has been working so hard. I would love to have a full house each night!
Off Off-Broadway’s Into the Woods will run from April 12 – April 15 at Benson Theater with free admission for the public.