Rent director Plaisant guides production of Baruch’s Godspell
For Baruch College, an institution typically categorized as a business school for commuters, a theater scene may be the furthest thing from anyone’s minds. However, stepping into the Bernie West Theatre, the black box space in the 23rd Street building, makes it easy to pull away from this perception.
For Baruch’s third musical, Godspell, the space has been transformed into the desolate remains of what was once New York City. Whimsical drawings sit side-by-side with graffiti and chalkboards above a cracked-tile floor. Seashells and rope sit by a box to invoke the reminder that New York City does rest on an island at the end of the day. Godspell helps build on what may hopefully be a regular feature of the Fine Performing Arts department’s repertoire.
For a space as small as the Bernie West, the production of Godspell has an extensive crew behind it. The show boasts a cast of 10, with four assistant stage managers working alongside stage manager Erin Person.
It is all under the guidance and vision of Rent’s director Dominique Plaisant, who also teaches Introduction to Acting and Advanced Acting at Baruch.
In the words of assistant stage manager Zeynep Akca, “It really shows that students who aren’t necessarily studying to be in the business can still find a place to express their talent, even on such a business-oriented campus. With each semester’s show they are proving that Baruch has talent. Musicals seem very elaborate to produce but by way of putting them together the department is truly giving hope to students that their talents in acting, dancing and singing will be seen. We just want to see that the arts are cared for, through action in such things.”
Godspell is no small feat. On the surface, it is a story about Jesus Christ, his disciples and the lessons that he teaches them.
Under the artistic vision of Plaisant, however, the musical takes place in the context of a gray zone between the rise of an unnamed authoritarian and the actual end of the world.
The show’s actual content ranges, including the occasional dose of audience participation, making use of a ready-to-use chalkboard and an unsuspecting theatregoer.
As for the cast, this production has the actors embody non-traditional roles, using their own names instead of the name of a character through the character’s progression in the story. For instance, Jacqueline Aquino, 22, plays herself but through the lens of Peggy, a motherly figure originally condemned for adultery.
According to Michael Schulz, 20, who plays himself, “The purpose of us keeping our own names is that, essentially, we are all regular people who come into this, like, sort of different world for a second and learn, yes, the teachings of Jesus but in a more simplistic, less religious sort of way … it brings out a little bit more of ourselves and makes our character development more interesting.”
There are also segments in which the actors use their non-English languages to speak lines in order to further convey an understanding of the people who learn the lessons of the show’s Jesus—people of all different backgrounds come together.
As to what led to the decision to make Godspell the spring musical, Plaisant relayed a quote that she felt encapsulated the show.
“‘Earth shall be fair and all her people one.’ That was my inspiration to do the show,” said Plaisant. “No matter what religion or political party someone is a part of, or believes in, we should all have the love and respect for each other to be who we are and live harmoniously equally.”
During the show, projections of New York City being built and recreated all through history take over the back of the stage to highlight the number “Beautiful City” to emphasize the feeling of “… rebuilding ‘We can do this, we have this opportunity to do this,”’ in the face of disaster and a world that, just for the moment, seems quite frightening.
It is under that air of recreation amid disaster that the characters come together under Jesus.
According to Allegra Kuney, 23, the role of Jesus is no simple task. “When I got the role I felt…I need to live up to this role…I can’t just be my old self, you know, it’s a big responsibility, more than if I was playing a fictional character or a regular person.”
The modern setting, however, gives a new dynamic to the role the character plays.
“It’s not the historical Jesus necessarily, cause it’s taking place in a theoretical future, so I’m definitely a modern person with all these modern references and the set is very modern, so I’m trying to play it very universal, like it could be in any time or any place … including this apocalyptic time,” Kuney said.
“Even the world is currently ending right now,” joked cast member Nicholas Leung, 20, adding, “there’s a bond we all share.” On opening night, Godspell aims to prove this true.