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Tabor students create comic strip musical

News editor

Most directors would be worried, just five days before the debut of an original play, to see actors rewriting lines and tweaking characters, musicians changing notes in scores, and people missing practice.

Not Cheyenne Derksen. The Tabor College senior revels in all of the last-minute adjustments that she said are just part of what has been a dynamic, student-driven creative process.

A little over two months ago, the musical was little more than an idea Derksen wanted to develop. Friday, the fully-scripted and scored hour-long musical based on the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” makes its debut at Tabor.

“We didn’t do a musical this year,” she said. “I felt the need, and I thought that other people would feel the need as well. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to direct, I just wanted to fill a need.”

And if nothing else, Derksen said it gave her something to do over Christmas break and interterm.

Derksen started pitching the idea to other students, and though she had no theme or direction at the time, many of them bought in.

“So many different types of people came in,” she said. “Some people thought it was interesting and wanted to come see it, but tons of people wanted to jump into it.”

The first group of students became the “idea team,” charged with deciding what the musical would be about. Their discussions didn’t go the direction Derksen originally had in mind.

“I was totally game for doing something really deep, a philosophical, thick musical on life, and they were like, ‘Let’s not,’” she said.

Wanting something more light-hearted, the group settled on the “Calvin and Hobbes” theme, which turned out to be a good compromise.

“Calvin and Hobbes is fun, but it still has that philosophy in it, so we could all agree on it,” Derksen said. “It’s hilarious, but it still has the depth we’re looking for.”

Ben Schmidt, who plays six-year-old Calvin’s dad, reinforced the fun part.

“It’s absolutely hilarious,” he said. “I’ve heard it eight to ten times straight through by now. The last time we practiced, I was laughing so hard. It’s so funny.”

After the theme was decided, Derksen and others recruited more students to the cause. A musical needed a script, songs, actors, musicians, and stage crew. While some jumped right in, others required more convincing.

“I was part of that twisting of arms,” Logan Whitney said. “I’d seen a few of the comics, but I didn’t know that much about it.”

Whitney plays Calvin, the philosophical youngster for whom Hobbes, a stuffed tiger to others, is real. His approach to bringing his character to life is simple.

“I throw off all worry and act immature,” he said.

Krista Neifert ended up with a larger role than she expected writing songs.

“It was going to be me and another girl to head this up, and she decided she didn’t want to do it,” she said. She pulled in Andrea Acker, who also plays Calvin’s mom.

“I gave Andrea the Valentine’s Day song,” Neifert said. “We wanted to do one with Suzie and Calvin because they have a funny relationship, and there’s a comic about a Valentine’s Day they have together.”

The cast and crew are all volunteers, and most come from majors outside of the arts. That made the creative process better, Derksen said.

“There’s so much commitment across the board from everybody,” she said.

Schmidt said Tabor, with its focus on experiential learning and service, was the right context in which the project could flourish.

“We probably couldn’t do this at a bigger college,” he said. “It’s something we can all put our combined interest into.”

“Tabor has a lot more application and hands-on learning,” Whitney said. “This can also be a ministry.”

The actors will have scripts in their hands for the performance, which is being done as a staged reading.

“Staged readings are a step in the process of creating a new work, so we’re at that midway point where we’ve got a script and the music,” Derksen said. “The staged reading is what the actors and writers use to show producers what they would be capable of with more support.”

No matter what happens with the play after the performance, Derksen said the experience kept her busy during Christmas break and interterm.

“I get dangerous when I’m bored,” she said laughingly. “I’d rather write plays than end up in jail.”

The performance is at 7:30 p.m.  Friday in the Theater Lab on the lower level of the H.W. Lohrenz Building. Admission is free, and donations will be accepted.

Last modified Feb. 4, 2015

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