The Fairmont State Academy for the Arts will virtually present “Could you Hug a Cactus?” and an original production titled “SHINE” on Saturday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. “Could You Hug A Cactus?” directed by Troy Snyder, Technical Director and Professor of Theatre at Fairmont State University, is based on the poems of Phillip Van Wagoner, the Book by Jessica Penzias and Music & Lyrics by Denver Casado. “SHINE,” the second premier is an original show directed by Broadway artist and Clarksburg native, Kirsten Wyatt.
“I am so proud of how our Academy for the Arts Youth Theatre Company students have persevered over this last year,” said Leigh Anne Bolyard, Director of the Academy for the Arts. “We have never done an all-virtual musical production before, so this provided our students some unique experiences from learning how to create their own sets and costumes to how to get the best camera shot. It has been so much fun to watch their creativity shine through in their performances.”
“Could you Hug a Cactus?” invites the audience into a world of whimsy. For 30 minutes, the cast will perform imaginative creations, including poems about a mysterious man who lives inside a bedroom wall, a karate lesson gone awry, oddly named family members, a very hungry monster, super gross objects, and a whirlwind series of short poems told in under 40 seconds. One by one, they each share their imaginative creations, until a nervous performer panics and refuses to contribute a poem. Can the cast help her shed self-doubt and ignite a creative spark?
This hybrid musical is a first of its kind and was specifically designed to be performed virtually or in person, and was created during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for continued performances and connections among cast members.
“It was very interesting to be in this play,” said Mia Kopischke “Could You Hug a Cactus?” cast member. “I think it had a lot of fun activities for the actors to do and for the audience to watch. We got to make our own sets and costumes at home! I could not think of a more fun way to do a play.”
Each of the scenes and songs are intended to be performed individually. When these scenes are video recorded and played in sequence, it presents a complete musical theater experience available to anyone with an internet connection.
“To give our cast a more in-depth creative experience, Leigh Anne and I wanted something that would be more involved than just reciting a poem, or singing a song on camera,” said Snyder. “Each actor and I talked about their particular number and tried to create as much of a complete story idea as possible. Also, the students were challenged to design and create characters, costumes, props and set pieces. They also had to work with me as the director of the performances, and to make camera shots which sometimes involved multiple reshoots. In online rehearsals, the actors, their parents and I spent a lot of time talking about their designs and video shots too. We have treated every piece like a very short film.”
Following “Could you Hug a Cactus?” will be an original piece titled, “SHINE.” In consultation with the production’s director, Kirsten Wyatt, students ranging from seventh grade to high school seniors have created a virtual cabaret with songs and monologues to inspire and spread joy. “SHINE” was created on the guiding principle that music and theater are an outlet of self-expression and empowerment.
“I’m so proud of the all the work these students have put in for this production,” said Wyatt. “I wanted to create a show where the students and I collaborated fully. To me, that meant giving them agency to choose their material, making sure they were saying what they wanted to say and were empowered to bring their full artistic selves to the process. Every single one of them grew so much and I hope they had as much fun as I did.”
“SHINE” cast members hope to provide light and inspiration to the virtual audience after a difficult year.
“It was very fun working with Kirsten Wyatt and even better knowing she is a Broadway actor,” said Dominic Secreto a Shine cast member. “The virtual experience was not as different as I thought it would be compared to in-person lessons. I had fun making my videos.”
There are no admission costs for the shows, and each will be available for viewing on the Fairmont State Academy for the Arts Facebook page.