By Kylie Madry
It’s a radical idea: producing, directing and acting a full-length musical in just 24 hours. But that’s exactly what two organizations on campus – SMU Program Council and SMU Student Theatre (“SMUST”) – have done for five years now.
“The fact that we’re able to pull it off is actually ridiculous,” joked Sam Weber (’18), a science triple major who was involved with 24 Hour Musical for all four years of his undergraduate experience.
Other universities have 24-hour musicals of their own, but most are short, student-written acts with little choreography or costuming. SMU’s crew has pulled off major Broadway pieces like “Legally Blonde,” “Heathers” and “Chicago,” complete with dance numbers, full costume and hair design and a live orchestra.
The idea came in the fall of 2014, when Weber’s older brother Charlie was a senior. He was the president of Program Council, and missed the thrill of being on stage. He lamented the fact that there wasn’t an opportunity on campus for non-performing arts majors to be involved with large productions – but he had a plan. He teamed up with his friends in Meadows and SMUST and got to work.
“It was SMU’s centennial year, and we wanted to do something of landmark value,” said theatre and journalism alumna Ally Van Deuren (’15), who helped found the annual event. “It’s something that SMU did not have before.”
After coordinating with Meadows, the organizers learned there was only one weekend when the Greer Garson Theatre was available: the Saturday before Easter. The whole building would be closed the day before and the day after.
“We just thought, ‘Well, let’s just rehearse the show in 24 hours,’” Sam Weber said.
Could it be done?
The team had picked “Spring Awakening.” “It’s rock and roll, it’s sexy, it’s punk,” Weber said.
The show came with a little bit of prep work beforehand: auditions were held in late February, and scripts were passed out around spring break.
“The first time we ran the show, we weren’t positive about it,” Weber said.
They had work to do.
It really wasn’t until the last rehearsal before showtime that the director, theatre alumna Jenna Richanne Hannum (’15), finally said, “Guys, we have a show.”
The audience loved it, and every 24 Hour Musical since has sold out; one even went over capacity (“It was actually a fire hazard, and we got in trouble for it,” Weber said).
“The final product was just so good that it was exhilarating,” Van Deuren said. “We used the phrase ‘radically immediate’ – when you’re in a room and you only have a few minutes to work as a team and within the scope of a massive musical, there’s no other choice but to make the biggest choice. You have to go 150 percent.”
Since then, the 24 Hour Musical project has expanded into the larger SMUsical Project, which also hosts a Family Weekend Musical put together over two weekends in the fall (past acts have included “Hairspray” and “Into the Woods”).
And now, five years in, these young alumni have reason to celebrate. Their idea has spawned copycats nationwide from theaters in Los Angeles and New York, and from Ohlook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine.
“24 Hour Musical has provided a huge opportunity and opened a lot of doors,” Weber said. “It’s reminded us that art is out there and it’s not exclusive. It’s not hard to come by. You don’t have to be in a conservatory program to be a part of this – theatre is for everybody.”
Thanks to his involvement in 24 Hour Musical, Weber landed gigs with the Dallas Theater Center, which led him to join the Directors Program at the Young Vic Theatre in London – while also earning his master’s in history of medicine at Oxford University.
Through 24 Hour Musical, “we were able to learn a lot about ourselves as actors, performers, artists – like, ‘Oh yes, I do want to be a director,’” Van Deuren said.
“We have people from across the country coming in for this,” Van Deuren said.
What’s next? The young alumni are looking for ways to form a group to ensure the 24 Hour Musical lives on.
“I want to come back in 50 years and see this still happening,” Van Deuren said.