With Broadway dark, students join cast and crew on Zoom

Exonians get real-world advice from theater professionals.

Sarah Pruitt ’95
July 31, 2020
Catching Up On Broadway poster

As an instructor in PEA’s Theater and Dance Department, Lauren Josef always looks for ways to expose her students to people working in the world of professional theater. “It can be really easy to get caught in our little bubble,” she says.

After New York City’s famed theater district suspended all plays and musicals and Exeter’s spring term went online, Josef saw an opportunity. She knew a number of Broadway performers who were, like her, graduates of James Madison University’s musical theater program. Now that they were temporarily unemployed, why not see if they could talk to Exeter students about their experiences?

Catching up on Broadway poster with Jake OdmarkStarting in May, Josef hosted “Catching Up on Broadway,” a series of Zoom chats featuring performers and crew members from such high-profile shows as Hamilton, Chicago, Kinky Boots and Evita. She publicized the chats by sending out schoolwide emails, as well as contacting students involved with past Exeter productions (especially musicals) and posting on the department’s Instagram feed.

Open to all members of the Exeter community, the conversations covered such wide-ranging topics as auditions for musical theater programs at the university level, working in productions on cruise ships, the importance of doing your best as an understudy, and the perks of getting an Actors’ Equity card.

One of the performers, Jake Odmark, was most recently part of the cast of The Inheritance, one of the shows that ended its Broadway run early due to the pandemic. Josef recalls that his advice to students that they “congratulate other people on their successes rather than to think of it as their own failures” really resonated. “A theme that rang true throughout the entire series was how important it is to cheer your friends and your colleagues on,” Josef says, “even if that means that you’re not being chosen for a role or a part. Because their success is also your success.”

Catching up on Broadway with Anna-Lee CraigA Zoom conversation with Anna-Lee Craig, who works on the sound design and engineering for Hamilton, drew a somewhat different crowd than the others. “That brought in our tech students,” Josef says.

Recently named chair of the Theater and Dance Department, Josef sees “Catching Up on Broadway” as another way to keep ties within the department and with the greater community strong, even while students and faculty are apart. Based on questions asked during the Zoom chats, she’s also been able to connect with students who are thinking about pursuing theater or dance in college or as a career, and open deeper conversations with them about their plans. “That’s been really rewarding for our department,” she says, “and for me as an educator.”

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