OCT. 25, 2019
Ripley (BM ’20, Classical Voice) and Jarrett (BM ’20, Musical Theatre) speak about their respective productions Women and Morningside taking place on October 25 and November 21. They also share thoughts on the challenges of putting together a show, and about life after graduation.
The students are two of six at MSM this year producing a “Student Project in Performance,” selected through an application process.
Tell us about your student projects and what inspired you to put them together.
Ripley: My student project is of all female composed music performed by 25 all female performers. I wanted to have a sampling of all of the great music that’s lesser-known or not often performed. In music history classes we learn about Brahms, Beethoven, Strauss; but what about Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny Mendelssohn, what about Schumann’s wife, Clara Schumann. Even Alma Mahler had to stop composing when she married Gustav Mahler. Some women had to use pseudonyms or were published under their husbands so they received no credit. Even if their works did happen to be published they were not held in the same esteem as their male counterparts. I wanted to put together a concert that honors those women and their music.
Jarrett: My student project began as an assignment many years ago. I was at a prec-ollege program in at Northwestern University, and I was given the assignment in my script analysis class to take King Lear and put it in a modern context. We weren’t allowed to use computers or any technology, it all had to be written by hand. I decided to set my assignment in the 1940s (turning a kingdom into a company), and handed in my scene. I couldn’t stop thinking about the assignment, so I decided to keep going and continue to work on the book. The next year I decided to add music to it, and over the duration of the four years after that I turned it into a musical. It’s so exciting to see the whole thing come to life with a cast, creative team, and orchestra!
What’s the most challenging part of putting on these projects by yourself?
Ripley: Having to deal with getting 25 people’s schedules, mutual times for meeting, practice rooms, etc…
Jarrett: It’s all volunteer based, we can’t offer course credit or payment. They really have to have the faith in us that this is going to be a good project and something they really want to do. I think I speak for both of us in saying that we’re extremely grateful for our peers that give us their time and energy to help bring our projects to life. I have a orchestra pit of 13 students, a cast of 13 students, and a creative team of 7 students — I’ve already experienced having to shift things around and find new people as well. It’s all apart of the process, because in the real world you’ll have similar experience. As nice as it would be to not deal with finding a last minute replacement, it helps prepare us for the future.
Ripley: Like Jarrett, I’ve had three or four people who have had to take a leave of absence or had a schedule change and had less than two weeks to find a replacement for the show. Since it’s all volunteers I had to find people who were capable of learning new music quickly and felt just as passionately about this topic as I do. It’s so important to learn how to adapt to these changes and keep moving forward!
Why should people come see Women and Morningside?
Ripley: You should come to Women if you’re curious about the unknown. My idea for the performance came to me while sitting in the library, thinking about how I had only one song that was written by a woman and everything else in my repertoire was written by men — I thought, wow, that’s not a great ratio. I knew then I wanted to explore that idea through performance, and bring in students of other majors to perform other lesser-known works by women across disciplines. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to works composed by women is that they are not serious pieces of music and are not considered worthy of recognition. Through my project I am trying to show that this is certainly not the case and the works just need to be performed to be appreciated. I hope that the audience will come and hear music they may have not heard, and realize it’s just as beautiful as the classic works we know well.
Jarrett: I really have to applaud Ripley on this project, because even in musical theatre there are many female composers that are not acknowledged on the same level as their male counterparts, such as Steven Sondheim or Richard Rodgers. Mary Rodgers, for example, wrote great pieces but you almost never hear about her. With any performance you attend, you should always be able to leave with some kind of message or lesson. When I first started writing Morningside, my base idea was to take King Lear and turn it into a musical. Then I began developing the characters and their backstories and set them living in post-WWII era, the 1940s in New York City. The protagonist of my story is a war veteran dealing with PTSD, which in that time was a relatively unknown condition. Morningside talks about living with mental illness and PTSD, which is something you don’t really see in theatre. The message I hope people take away is that everyone is dealing with something, even when it’s not visible to others. Everyone needs help in some way or another and no one should be left behind.
Both of you are in your final year of undergraduate studies at MSM — what’s next for you?
Ripley: This project really has been the highlight of my senior year! I’m very glad to be doing it, it feels so necessary to give women the same respect as these male composers. Aside from Women, I’m in Senior Opera Theatre’s Moscow Cheryomushki playing the role of Lidochka. It’s a relatively unknown work by Shostakovich, so it should be quite interesting. I’ll also have a graduation recital in the spring and I’m currently working on graduate school applications.
Jarrett: Morningside is the main thing I’m working on during this fall semester. I’ve been on crutches recovering from a dance injury, which have made things a bit difficult with producing the show, but I’m grateful to my creative team who have helped me with the project! In the spring semester, I’ll be performing the role of Bazzard in MSM Musical Theatre’s Mainstage production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. At the end of the year we have the Senior Showcase, which is a culmination of everything we’ve learned during our four years in the musical theatre program. There’s one Showcase performance for family and friends and one for talent agents and producers to attend. As for life after graduation, I’ve done TV and film acting work since I was about seventeen, so I may continue to audition, and since I’m SAG-AFTRA Eligible, eventually get my Equity card. I may apply for graduate school. I may travel and work abroad. There are many paths I could take—we’ll have to wait and see what happens.