A day in the life of rehearsals: “Pippin” crew members discuss the challenges of production

Award-winning artist Chet Walker directed Trinity University’s performance of the musical “Pippin.” Walker starred in the original version and choreographed the revival, currently on Broadway. Many student actors involved in the production of “Pippin” have learned and grown because of Walker’s direction.

“Pippin” is about a troupe of actors putting on a play about a man who wants an extraordinary life”“a life with meaning and fulfillment.  His endeavors are the source of much of the show’s material, yet there is a constant surrealist edge to the mood.  The characters are being directed onstage by the Leading Player, portrayed by first year Alejandro Cardona.

Despite Cardona’s success as Leading Player, he faced challenges, both physical and otherwise.

“When I got the role, my initial thoughts were, “˜I can’t dance,’ and then everything became about whether or not I could play the moves physically well,” Cardona said. “It became a sort of spiritual journey. But I’ve put hours and hours of extra work in the dance studio to be able to get myself to the point that I need to be at. That was the hardest part of this show.”

Cardona added that Walker helped him deal with the pressures of both quality and time while working on the production.

“From Chet, I’ve learned that there are no excuses,” Cardona said. “Anytime people don’t think they can accomplish a task, he’ll just say, “˜Well, we open on the fifteenth.’  It’s stressing the point that when something needs to happen, you just make it happen.”

Cardona also conveys a sense of triumph in the show’s progress considering the constraints that were put not only on the cast, but also on the crew and faculty overseeing the progress.

“I don’t think anybody believed that we could put together this big a musical with this complexity of numbers in five weeks”“that’s ridiculous,” Cardona said. “But I don’t think any other director could pull this off besides Chet. Nobody would trust anybody else.”

Playing the titular character is Trinity acting veteran Jonathan Moore, who details his experience with the acting side of the performance.

“For me, the acting was definitely the most difficult part,” Moore said.  “I’ve never had to play an actor playing a character, so it was a challenge.  Chet stresses the motivation of everything, so if you can’t find a reason to do something, you don’t do it.”

However, Moore has both increased his knowledge and perhaps his ability when dealing with the realm of musical theatre.

“What I’ve really learned about was taking acting and applying it to choreography and singing,” Moore said. “It was something I hadn’t really done before and had initially struggled with, and I’m still working on it.  I learned a lot about motivating every work of a song and every choreographed step, which were both things I’d never learned about before.”

Because of his experience on the Trinity stage, Moore was also able to compare Walker’s direction to past ones.

“Chet brings a different air of commercialism.  He takes us out of the academic context,” Moore said. “I’ve worked with every director and guest director, but they all have an academic bent. Chet was one of the first experiences I’ve had with commercial theatre, so his eye is not for what we are learning from the production, but his goal is the success of the production.”

Playing the role of Catherine is sophomore Sarah Perkins.  While Catherine is often only interpreted as the “love interest” of Pippin, Perkins worked to find more depth in the character and apply it to her work.

“I actually wasn’t aware of the different facets of Catherine until I was talking with Chet during one of my rehearsals,” Perkins said. “I saw her as a love interest, but through my interactions and through analyzing the script, I was able to see that she is an incredibly complex character.”

Perkins played a similar role in last year’s MainStage production “The Crazy Locomotive.” She acknowledges the similarity between these parts and explains what draws her to this type of character.

“It’s interesting because these women are playing sort of silly roles, and you don’t get to see how dynamic or powerful they are until the final moments of the show,” Perkins said. “And so, I enjoy these roles because the audience thinks they’re so dismissible until their last monologue or action of the play.”

Trinity University’s performance of “Pippin” will hit the stage Nov. 15-17 and Nov. 20-23 with curtain times at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and 8 p.m. next weekend in the Stieren Theater.