This past weekend, Future Waitstaff of America (FWA) presented “Into the Woods,” the fantastical musical of recent cinematic fame. This was a huge undertaking, with a cast, crew and pit band to match.
Speaking to the challenges that size posed to one creative element, musical director Conor Chinitz ’18 said, “The key to getting the full 15-person pit band that the score calls for was just starting early. I agreed to music-direct the show at the end of last semester, so I reached out to instrumentalists during winter break, i.e. before the beginning of spring semester got everyone overbooked.”
And although he had acted in this show twice already, Chinitz admitted, “The prospect of conducting a band this large was both exciting and a little scary, since the largest pit I’ve worked with thus far was five people, (including me). Tuesday was the first time we had run the show with the pit band playing (instead of me accompanying on piano) and it was a MESS. We were seriously concerned about our ability to make the show happen at all.”
“The biggest problem was that the band was unfamiliar with the show,” Chinitz continued, “so it was very easy for them to get lost and very difficult for them to get back on track. I ended up going through the entire score and giving the pit band cue lines for every song, and often for important moments within songs as well. Wednesday’s run went exponentially better than Tuesday’s, and by Saturday night the show was running almost flawlessly. I was very proud of the band for making such dramatic improvement so quickly.”
Actress Becky Wilson ’17 experienced a similar tech-week rush. She recalled: “It was extremely fulfilling to see the show that we had been working on for nearly nine weeks come together with the set, the orchestra, the sound and lighting design, and the costumes.”
This team put in many long, hard hours into producing this show. Speaking to the value of a longer creative process, Wilson mused, “I think that having ‘Into the Woods’ go up during the final stretch of the semester gave us the time and the creative freedom to play. It wasn’t just a show that rehearsed for a couple of weeks and then went up as blocked, it was a show that all of us got to spend the semester living in.”
This experience was unique for the students involved in the production, since the longer-range rehearsal schedule allowed them to absorb the show in a way they often cannot in other, shorter productions. “I also think that this being ‘the last’ show for a lot of our seniors raised the stakes a bit, in a very positive way,” Wilson continued. “We all cared a lot about making this show the best it could possibly be, but we were also able to have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.”
Actress Emily Drossel ’19 reflected on the difficulties of playing three separate characters by saying, “Aside from quick changes, these roles prompted me to find what it meant to be neutral in the world of the Woods.”
As the show progressed and crystallized into its final form, members of the cast and crew found new layers of meaning within the produciton. Speaking to how her feelings changed throughout the creation of the show, Drossel said, “This process made me think about the nature of agency among the characters. All of these fairytale characters fall on a spectrum of decision/indecision, morality and personal growth. Double- and triple-casting the smaller roles, and [director] Anisa’s concept of having them be puppets, made me think about the variation in characters within the show. I had known ‘Into the Woods’ for a long time, and had always grouped all the characters together as fairytale people who are trying to find their way through this story, but I had never thought about the two extremes that these characters can be portrayed, either as people breaking from the convention of their stories or pawns to the narrative.”
Wilson’s connection to her role and the show as a whole also evolved over time. She remarked, “At the very beginning of the process, I was definitely excited because I loved my role, but as the weeks went on, my feelings shifted: my simple excitement transformed into a deep love and admiration for everyone involved in the process as well as a more meaningful understanding of Sondheim’s lyrics. By the time our performance rolled around, I was completely enveloped in the show, emotionally and physically. Thank you to our beautiful director Anisa for making this happen.”
Drossel fondly recalled the rich disparities between the multiple characters she portrayed in the show, which was a welcome challenge: “My favorite parts were exploring the differences between my characters. Rapunzel had moments of extreme terror that were unmatched by Florinda, while Florinda had moments of physical comedy that Rapunzel couldn’t provide. Each role I played allowed me to try something different and gave me the opportunity to really vary my physicality and voice throughout the show.”
Wilson added, “I could not be happier that I ended my time at Vassar with ‘Into the Woods.’ This show definitely felt like the perfect ‘button’ to my experiences here at Vassar. From an acting standpoint, I have never felt more ‘in my skin’ as I did when I was playing Little Red. There was something about that character that just made me come alive, and made me feel like I was floating.”
Apart from the perfect fit of Wilson’s role, she felt intense gratitude toward everyone involved in the show. She explained, “[I]t reminded me why I love theater—not just for the thrill of the performance, but for the moments you get to share with the people you are working with, and the relationships that form from these moments…I never suspected that in my final semester I would make so many new friends and fall in love with so many wonderful people, and it breaks my heart that after making all of these connections, I have to leave in five short weeks.”
In a show all about intertwining multiple storylines, it is only fitting that the students involved in “Into the Woods” formed such strong bonds, and their connections with each other and with their various characters shined through in the culmination of all of their hard work.