Southeast Theatre Students Prosper at the Orris Theatre in Ste. Genevieve
Two Southeast theatre majors worked hard to perfect their art this past summer. Cody Heuer, a native of Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Charles Davis, a native of St. Charles, Mo., both worked at the Orris Theatre in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., as it presented two major productions: “Cabaret” began June 19 and ran through July 6, and “Fiddler on the Roof” will began July 17 and ran through Aug. 3. Both students are seniors this year, and both held prestigious positions at the Orris. Charles had an internship as the assistant director for both productions and Cody played the lead role of Clifford Bradshaw (Cliff) in “Cabaret.”
Charles said that Landon Shaw, one of the founders of ColeBeanBay Theatre Company (which operates the Orris), has been helpful to him personally. The other founder, Nicole Trueman-Shaw, helped establish ColeBeanBay in 2006.
“Landon took a chance on me this year by allowing me to become assistant director for his shows,” said Charles. “Because of that, I have grown so much in respect to my future career in theatre. He has a driving passion to bring professional theatre to the southeast area, and he’s helped me grow as an actor from last summer’s performance.”
Last year, he played the role of the brother Levi in ColeBeanBay’s production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Charles said that, in addition to his internship, he also played the role of Ernst Ludwig in “Cabaret” and Mendel in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Even before the curtain rose June 19, Charles’ summer days were anything but lazy.
“My schedule typically began at 9 a.m., when the interns go into the theatre to help build the set, hang lights or do marketing for the shows,” said Charles. “There was an hour break for lunch before beginning rehearsals at 1 p.m.”
Rehearsals, Charles said, involved blocking out book scenes, learning choreography or rehearsing the music until the 5 p.m. dinner break. But this is no 9 to 5 gig. After dinner, it was back to work.
“At six I went back to the theatre and, depending on the day, did a run-through of the show or the act we just rehearsed, or did another set of rehearsals for the next part of the play,” said Charles. “The day ended around 10:30 p.m. Interns also had acting, voice, dance and improvisational classes during certain days after lunch.”
Charles said his experience working at the Orris has been singular, in that he’s helped to build a theatre from scratch. According to ColeBeanBay’s Web site, the company only recently established the Orris Theatre as their home for the 2008 season.
“The overall experience at the Orris has been great,” said Charles. “The technical side of the company, with the help of the interns, helped to change the Orris into a working theatre. In a matter of two weeks, the set for ‘Cabaret’ was up and running in time for the first show.”
Charles said the experience at the Orris helped him learn what he needs to improve upon, but it also taught him about the realities of working in theatre. For example, ColeBeanBay operates under an Equity contract with the Actors Equity Association, the union for professional actors and stage managers.
“Working with Equity actors and other professionals from all over the United States makes me realize how hard the business is, but also how it is the best career for me,” said Charles. “This experience helped me focus on what I need to improve in my acting, singing and dancing skills, as well as my directing ambition. Talking with other actors and the director showed me that it is possible to succeed, but only by working as hard as you can.”
Cody Heurer worked at ColeBeanBay Theatre Company last summer, playing Reuben/The Baker in their production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” This past summer he played the part of Cliff in “Cabaret,” one of the lead roles. He said he was offered the role of Cliff after an exit interview with the company last summer.
“The role of Cliff is a lead simply because the story is told through his eyes,” said Cody. “This production gave the audience a chance to decide whether this story is actually happening or if it is all in Cliff’s creative mind. Working at ColeBeanBay doesn’t feel like a chore. Every day I was thrilled to be working with those amazing people. I left every rehearsal, performance and leisure activity with a smile.”
Cody said every day was different at the theatre, with rehearsals happening at different times each day of the week. He said that if he had any time off, he was working on the character. While it’s easy to assume that an actor’s favorite part of the show is the actual performance, for Cody, the performance is only half the enjoyment.
“It’s a wonderful thing to watch the pages of a script transform into something you can witness,” said Cody. “My favorite moments are during rehearsals when creative ideas are unleashed. However, performing in front of an audience is a powerful event for me as an actor. Seeing the audience show up for a ColeBeanBay production is humbling. I may have a leading role, but I think that each and every performer brings something to the show that cannot be imitated.”
Cody, who will graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2009, has two majors: musical theatre and acting/directing. Charles intends to graduate with two degrees in May of 2009: a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting/directing, and a bachelor of arts degree in communication studies. Both students said they are still considering their options for graduate school.
Charles and Cody both said the most helpful part of their education at Southeast has been under the direction of Judith Farris, the artist-in-residence for the departments of Music, Theatre and Dance.
“It must be said that I am not the best singer in the world, but Ms. Farris’ training and teaching has helped me come farther than I could have ever imagined,” said Charles.
“Ms. Farris has helped me become an actor/singer, rather than just an actor,” said Cody. “On my days off from the Orris, I usually return home for a lesson where she helps me ‘stay in my voice.’”
Charles said his favorite memories from Southeast came from his residence hall assignment during his freshman year.
“I was living at Towers North on the honors floor, and the entire floor became friends,” said Charles. “It was a blast. There was a great feeling that all the doors on the floor were open, and you didn’t have to worry about fitting in or any of that stuff. You could just leave any stress of school outside the floor.”
Cody said his favorite moment from Southeast was a class voice recital in December of 2007, but he has many fond memories of working in the department’s shows, either performing or backstage.
“Southeast has definitely laid the foundation for my acting and singing abilities,” said Cody. “However, I believe Landon and Nicole have given me a chance that a college setting couldn’t. Professional theatre is more beneficial than college theatre, in more ways than one.”
For those brief moments off the clock, both students said they try to relax. Charles said he enjoys bowling with his friends and reading, which is a “big stress relief.” Cody said he enjoys singing and listening to music, and has developed a collection of musical theatre soundtracks that are both mainstream and lesser known.
“College and real life are two different worlds,” said Charles, when asked for advice, “but both worlds mix on a regular basis. Always put in hard work. It may not always seem like all the work you can do will help you in the end, but it does. It’s good to know that you did what you could do, and will have no regrets.”
Cody emphasizes the importance of autonomy.
“Anything you want, you must go out and get,” said Cody. “Connections and networking go a long way. Always be yourself, and never burn a bridge.”