Arts and Entertainment | Theater

Musical workshop brings 'COLLEGE' to the stage

Dance numbers in the library and dramatic dialogues between classes aren’t just for the Disney Channel anymore.

Laura Pietropinto, CC ’00, directs and produces a reading of an updated version of “COLLEGE: The Musical,” created in 2006 by Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen, in the Lerner Black Box this Saturday. The show follows the story of a college first-year named Nathan (Sean Walsh, CC ’14) who is taken under the wing of a hard-partying senior, Jay (Alessio Mineo, CC ’14), and finally realizes that the lifestyle is unhealthy and unsatisfying.

Pietropinto, who teaches theater at Marymount School, returned to Columbia in November to gather a group of talented Barnard and Columbia students to assist in writing, producing, and acting.

She originally conceived the project as a way to get input on the rewrite from real college students while also providing preprofessional experience in the arts that, she says, is often not available until after graduation.

“A big aspect of it [this experience] was realizing that it is possible to have a professional career in the arts and theater,” said assistant producer Adrian Alea, CC ’15. He and the other student assistants said the program has given them a chance to work with theater professionals, learn how a professional rehearsal is run, and learn how to take an active role in developing an original theatrical piece.

Beyond providing pre-professional experience for students, the workshop was “also an opportunity for the writers to get input from college students,” Pietropinto said. The students and professionals said that this goal was one of the features of the workshop that made it special, according to Pietropinto.

The creative team, which includes Pietropinto, Elmegreen, Fornarola, and producer Jillian Robbins, said it expects student input to be useful in updating the musical and adapting it to represent a more universal and more relatable college experience for today’s students.

Some of the most valuable contributions students made were in creating more well-developed characters, according to Elmegreen. “They’ve had a lot of insight into what the characters are thinking and what they’re feeling,” Elmegreen said.

As the cast ran through parts of the show during a marathon session on Wednesday, Pietropinto frequently interrupted to ask the actors how they thought their characters were feeling and when they thought the audience should begin to see some of the deeper conflicts and anxieties that shaped their decisions. Elmegreen said that after each day’s rehearsal, he and Fornarola rewrite portions of the script based in part on student suggestions.

“We’ve found that most of it rings true, and the parts that don’t, we’ve addressed,” Pietropinto said. The team knew at the beginning that it wouldn’t have a finished piece by the end of the two-week workshop, but they weren’t worried, since “the amount of work the writers have done over just one week is incredible.”

Pietropinto said she was amazed by “the level of intelligence and insight and articulate opinion we’ve received from these students,” and said she would be excited to create similar collaborative programs in the future.

“COLLEGE: The Musical” will be performed this Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. in the Lerner Black Box. Admission is free. Tickets are available at the Ticket and Information Center in Lerner.

arts@columbiaspectator.com | @RachelLouie

Update: This story has been edited to reflect updated information on where to get tickets for the show.

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