Blinn students gain hands-on experience while staging production of 'Finding Neverland'
Volunteers get the opportunity to work behind the scenes on a Broadway production
February 3, 2020
Hundreds of Blinn College-Brenham Campus students and dozens of faculty members can now say they have helped stage a Broadway show.
On Friday, the students volunteered time and muscles to “Finding Neverland,” helping unload three tractor-trailer rigs filled with props, elaborate scenery, and equipment, and also lent a hand in setting up the Dr. W.W. O’Donnell Performing Arts Center stage for the sold-out presentation.
Approximately 100 students turned out for the first shift to help unload the trucks when they arrived at 6:30 a.m. Friday. The fleet had travelled overnight from Abilene, Texas, where “Finding Neverland” was staged the night before.
A second shift of students and faculty members helped with the load-in during the afternoon. There was a final early morning shift after the show to help pack everything back into the trucks to send them – at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday – to their next stop in Galveston.
In all, 300 students and 25 faculty/staff volunteers helped in the effort, playing a vital role in making the production possible, said Debbi Vavra, Dean of the Division of Visual/Performing Arts and Kinesiology.
The volunteers included Blinn’s athletic programs (football, men’s soccer, volleyball, and athletic trainers), band, music, and choir students; Texas A&M Engineering Academy at Blinn-Brenham students; and students from the art, speech, architecture, agricultural sciences, kinesiology, and theatre arts programs. The Brenham High School Drama Department also volunteered.
Kelsey Gerdon of Apex Touring Company, assistant stage manager and props coordinator, said the help is always welcome.
“This is not the first time that we’ve ever used students,” Gerdon said. “We play universities every now and then, but we’ve never had the entire football team.
“There are a lot of heavy things. They are paying attention. They work as a team and they are here to help, which is a huge perk. They’re doing a great job.”
The experience also exposes students to what it takes to put on a show, Gerdon added.
“It’s a really great opportunity to learn how to work with professionals and all the equipment that we have,” she said. “It’s really cool that we get this opportunity to provide some firsthand experience, and we’re really glad they are here.”
Vavra agreed that the production afforded a unique opportunity for Blinn students, particularly those involved in theatre arts.
Blinn brought in a professional rigger to set up the lighting for the production.
“He graduated from Texas State University, and he said that during his college career he never had an opportunity like this,” said Vavra, “so he was very excited to work with our students. For them to get this real-world experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Finding Neverland” was one of four productions hosted during the 2019-20 Performing Arts Series. “The Young Irelanders” on March 17 will be the final production. That show, at 7 p.m., will feature members of the Irish Cultural Academy.
“Blinn’s Chancellor, Dr. Mary Hensley, was very supportive,” Vavra said of “Finding Neverland.” “We’re very fortunate to get this experience.
“We're also grateful to our patrons who support the Performing Arts Series. That allows us to bring in great shows."
She also said Kevin Patrick, Technical Theatre Director, “was instrumental in making this show happen.” Patrick worked with students and the tour company.
Blinn Theatre Arts Program student Isabela Silva said getting an opportunity to help stage a Broadway show was “an amazing honor.”
“We’ve never done this before, and it’s really good firsthand experience, especially for people who want to go into performing after college,” Silva said.
Christopher Velasquez, also a performing arts student, said the “Finding Neverland” production provided a glimpse into the world of theatre.
“I’m really excited,” said Velasquez. “I’m ready to meet the actors and see what it’s all about and see the whole process, because I think that’s what I want to do someday.”
For more information about Blinn’s Performing Arts Series, visit www.blinn.edu/performing-arts-series.
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