‘Workin’ 9 to 5!’: Reflecting on student theater

Emma Lawrence/The Miscellany News.

There’s nothing quite like taking the stage for the first time during the opening number. The rush of adrenaline and emotions is unmatched. Ever since I was young, I knew that I wanted to take part in a craft that is like no other. The idea of stepping onto a stage in front of all to see in an intimate atmosphere will never get old. Performing in “9 to 5” with FWA has been an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my theater career. 

As I walk into Rockefeller Hall, the sound of students’ singing voices fills my ears. This is the epicenter of theater production here at Vassar College. From basses to lyrical sopranos, a hodgepodge of different music echoes through the halls—if you’re looking for rehearsal, you’re in the right place. Ever since freshman year, I’ve enjoyed partaking in student theater. I have performed in three productions with musical theater club Future Waitstaff of America (FWA) and have enjoyed every single one of them— especially “9 to 5”.

“9 to 5” is a musical comedy that tells the satirical story of three women banding together to turn the tables on their sexist boss. Auditioning was quite the process, especially because the show title was ever-changing due to rights issues. After selecting “9 to 5,” character study began. I’ve been acting since I was five years old, so I understand the importance of understanding who your character is and why they act the way they do. Violet, Judy and Doralee all come from different walks of life, but unite under one common goal: bringing justice to women in an unfair work environment. Violet Newstead, portrayed by Kenza Squali-Houssaini ’24, has been working for 15 years and watches men receive their promotions year after year, yet she never received  hers. Cameron Long  ’23 plays Judy Bernly, a recent divorcee struggling to find her way in the workforce with no previous experience. I portray Doralee Rhoades, Dolly Parton’s iconic role in the 1980 film. A beautiful, happily married country girl, Doralee faces office harassment from her misogynistic boss. He tells everyone that they’re having an affair, and although untrue, the other women despise her for it.  However, despite being judged based on how she looks, Doralee remains positive and lighthearted. As the discriminatory and inappropriate treatment continues for all three women, they decide to join forces and become best friends in the process.

Rehearsals in Rockefeller Hall, the Aula and the Susan Stein Shiva Theater have been both grueling and exciting—as we approach opening night, we are only kicking it into high gear. Working with an incredible team of talented Vassar students—Sophie Wood 23, Mrin Somani 23, Chelsea Zak 23, Kelly Hatfield 23, and Evan Sweitzer 25—we have been able to create a piece of theater that is not only comical, but inspires you to create change. 

An enormous part of this production is Wood, my director. She has directed all of the performances that I have been in since my first year, and has focused on building community through art. Wood began her theater career in 2008. “I went through the whole ‘I’m going to be a Broadway STAR’ phase and then realized quickly that I didn’t see people who looked like me on Broadway. It’s sad, but the truth; the lack of representation really killed the Broadway performer dream for me. When I was a freshman in high school, my middle school drama teacher asked me and a friend to return to help students direct the show that was going up at the middle school that fall.” says Wood. The rest was history.

Wood has an interesting approach in starting her projects. “Each director will probably tell you something different but my process begins with reading the script and then watching other productions of the same show. I’m very much a visual learner, but I also like to get my initial thoughts written down before I see what others have done with the material. I think it’s important that you understand historically what’s been done so you get context,” she describes. She takes notes on what has been blocked before and searches for new meanings in the material to create an original approach. She asks herself, “What are lines that really stand out to me?” and, “What are visuals or set design or costume design I think would be interesting to incorporate?” But her ideas really flourish once she meets with the team and everyone contributes to the comprehensive artistic vision. Wood also makes it a priority to sit down and talk with her cast to understand nuanced character choices: “It’s an ongoing process, and I don’t think making the production ‘your own’ ever stops, even when the curtain opens.” She adds, “Each performance is simply a capture in time of your vision, but that vision is always evolving and growing as you work with new people, have different audiences, and learn new things about your show, your cast, and yourself,” concludes Wood.

Creating this production has been a labor of love from everyone involved. The entire cast and crew are incredibly talented individuals that have made this musical charming. You can come see “9 to 5” Thursday, April 20 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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