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Concordia performers go on a ‘First Date’ in student-directed musical

The realities of the dating world, from awkward first encounters to uncomfortably long moments of silence, will be brought to the stage in Concordia College Theatre’s upcoming production of “First Date.”

Senior theatre arts major Nick Brandt is directing “First Date,” opening on March 22 and running through March 24. The musical is Brandt’s senior thesis project and is entirely led by students, from the production team to pit performers, featuring only five actors.

“First Date” has been more than a year in the making. A senior thesis involves picking a focus area and doing a project centered around that focus. In the theatre department, a senior thesis can involve doing lights or designing sound for a show, starring in a production, or in Brandt’s case, directing an entire production. Brandt pitched the idea of doing a directing thesis in December 2016 and has been working towards this show ever since.

Student-led musicals are a rarity here at Concordia, but Brandt was confident about his choice in thesis project.

“I wanted to make it student led. Everything, production wise, all students … which is something that is fairly unique, actually, here,” Brandt said.

Director of theatre Dr. David Wintersteen likes Brandt’s choice of production for his senior thesis because of its modernity, saying that it is well suited for this audience here at Concordia.

“I think it’s a good choice that he has made with this musical for a couple of reasons: it’s contemporary and it’s a small cast … this is a different kind of musical that we don’t generally produce on the main stage,” Wintersteen said. “I think there is great learning value for everybody working on this, which is the whole point of these senior thesis productions.”

The musical, which is set in a bar, revolves around a blind date and all of the awkwardness that comes along with it. Aaron, played by sophomore Jack Johnston, is a dorky, reserved guy who is set up with Casey, a wise-cracking, funky girl played by senior Megan Hovinen. What seems like an unusual match with no hope turns into something more as the musical progresses. Along the way, distractions and interruptions posed by the many other characters, all portrayed by the other three actors, makes for an interesting and dynamic blind date.

Five-person casts are a bit of a change from Concordia Theatre’s recent larger productions like “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Wintersteen notes the benefits that come with having a small group.

“The stage time and the artistic challenges, they deepen for each of those actors,” Wintersteen said.

Hovinen, who is also using her role in “First Date” as her senior thesis, agreed that she enjoys rehearsing and performing with a small cast.

“My favorite part has been the small cast of it. You always have to be on,” Hovinen said.  

Brandt believes that while people from almost any age group can enjoy “First Date,” college students will find it especially relatable.

“It actually lends itself really well to college-age students,” he said. “There’s something about watching all of the crazy things that happen on a date—all of the things that go wrong, the things that go right—there’s something relatable about that to people in our age group.”

Attending theatrical productions provides thought-provoking entertainment that engages students with issues and interesting ideas. For example, “First Date” sends a message about being open to new people without being so quick to judge.

“It’s about relationships and getting to know people,” Hovinen said. “I think it’s about meeting someone and being open with them and not jumping to judgements.”

“First Date” is being performed in the Lab Theatre in the Frances Frasier Comstock Theatre on March 22 through March 24 at 8 pm. Tickets will be free at the door before each performance, and the cast and crew encourages attendees to arrive early, as seating in the Lab Theatre is limited.

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