By Brendan Fugere
Returning to school for the Spring semester is always a time of unique emotions, stresses, and excitements. For me, one thing dominated my attention. When I came to Corban for my Freshman year, I made the decision to put my background in sports behind me. Instead, I decided to pursue a longstanding interest of mine: theater. That decision proved more fruitful than I could have imagined. Due to the demands of my personal life, I was unable to participate in the last two plays, and so when I was finally able to return, I was ecstatic.
January 10th was the first day of auditions for Corban’s theatrical production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. It proved to be a powerful beginning to a fantastical journey. As the auditions were whittled down and the cast finalized, our veritable band of brothers had been formed. We were an eclectic mix. There were long-time theater veterans as well as first-timers. We spanned from Freshman to Seniors, from quiet introverts to deafening extroverts, and from cowboys to the bourgeoisie. It seemed a farfetched notion that these fifteen cast members would all become friends, but nevertheless, a wonderous dynamic blossomed within the group like a secret garden. The flowers sustained each other through cross pollination, and they all grew by the light of the sun. That sun was our director.
Jeremiah Price is a new face at Corban University. Tamara McGinnis, the head of the theater department, first approached him in Fall of 2018. He went on to direct the masterful production of Suite Surrender at Corban in the following Spring. As his second show at Corban, some of the actors had already experienced his directing; but for many, including myself, it was their first exposure to Price. However, whether we had the experience or not was irrelevant. None of us were disappointed. Price is nothing if not a visionary. His passion exudes from his words and demeanor, infecting and intoxicating those around him. He had already spent half a year planning the show before auditions even took place. Many of us had no specific care for the story of Jekyll and Hyde, but Price’s enthusiasm and energy soon brought it near to our hearts.
In a couple of weeks, this play was truly a passion project for every person involved. Price brought his vision to fruition, the actors vitalized and personalized their characters, builders constructed a menacing colossus of a set, the tech team empowered the play with countless effects, and patrons of Corban Theater Arts made all of it possible.
After weeks of intensive laboring as well as physical and emotional investment, our first performance finally arrived. It was March 5th, a mere eight weeks since the first audition. This tight time frame was stressful, yet also invigorating. Uncertain about how prepared we were, each actor strove to enter their character’s mindset and to put on the best show possible. To our great delight, the performance was an utter success. Riding the wave of excitement and accomplishment, we soared through our next show. Come Saturday, our third and final performance for the weekend, we had tested the waters, felt out the audience, and finely tuned our act. We knocked it out of the park with our best performance yet.
It was a high to be sure. The product we had produced was better than any of us, even Price, had ever envisioned. As a group, we were closer than ever and fed off of each other’s joy. Of course, a show is never perfect. We went through the next week with a couple of rehearsals in which we all had new ideas and techniques to improve upon our performance from the weekend before.
On Thursday the 12th, the day before our first show of the weekend, we were all prepared to give our best to new audiences. Then, at 4:38 PM, we received a video message from our director. “I apologize for my shaken message,” he began. “The university has cancelled all events. What that means for us is that we unfortunately will not have a second weekend of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
We were devastated. The COVID-19 pandemic had been circulating everyone’s consciousness. The public tension was in the air, but we had not expected this. Our heightened anticipations for the weekend were shattered. There was no falling action. No conclusion. No closure. We hung in silence, shock. We did not know when we would see each other. We could not process. Our deep physical, mental, and, most significantly, emotional investments of the last nine weeks seemed to have dissipated, as if Thanos had snapped his fingers at our hopes and dreams.
To the onlooker, this may seem like an overreaction. “It’s just a play,” they would say. “You will do much more important and significant things in your life.” This may be true, but it is drastically misled. This “play” was our lives. For the whole semester, all our spare time, thoughts, and energy went into the crafting of a product. More than that, we had bonded as a cohesive group – each engaged on all levels in the same pursuit.
Fortunately, we were able to meet very soon and celebrate our accomplishments, mourn our losses, and reflect on the experiences we had. In his video sent at that tragic 4:38 PM, Price said, “We cannot be thankful for everything in our lives, that is simply unrealistic, but we can be thankful through everything.” As I still process the loss of what could have been, I am thankful for the experiences which were given to me by the love and care of everyone involved in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
I am leaving the production a different person than the man who waited eagerly for that January 10th audition. I am also leaving with what I hope will be lifelong relationships with people I hold very dear. It is them I am thankful for, and it is because of them I can be thankful through these times.