By Janelle Fisher
UW-Green Bay students took to the stage Thursday, Nov. 17 for the opening night of their production of “If/Then.”
Thomas Campbell, the show’s director, said the show follows 38-year-old Elizabeth as she moves to New York to restart her life following a divorce and is faced with a choice.
“At the beginning of the show, she’s presented with a choice and she makes it,” he said. “She makes the choice, and at that point the story splits into two parallel storylines. So we get to watch her life as a version of herself and then we get to watch her life as a different version of herself. Elizabeth becomes Beth and Liz, and we get to watch Beth’s life and then Liz’s life as the results of the choice that she makes at the beginning.”
Overall, Campbell said the show is fun with great songs and performances, while still touching on deeper issues.
“It’s a sort of a fun play about fate and choice and chance and how all of those things are related to each other, and how we sort of navigate through our lives,” he said. “It’s got some great songs and really strong performances.”
Campbell said he hopes audiences of the show will enjoy its light-hearted nature, while still taking time to reflect on the show’s message.
“My hope would be that they’re moved to a place of reflection — that they leave smiling and maybe a little teary-eyed,” he said. “It’s an emotional show but it’s also an uplifting show. I hope that they’re able to go through an emotional experience in a good cathartic way.”
Campbell said theater enthusiasts might actually be familiar with the show’s writers, who were responsible for the creation of another recently popular show.
“The authors are the same people that wrote ‘Next to Normal’, which won the Pulitzer Prize and a whole bunch of Tony Awards,” he added.
Campbell said the name recognition wasn’t the only factor that went into selecting “If/Then” for this year’s performance, though.
“Over the past few years, we have wanted to do shows that talk about issues that our students can relate to,” he said. “And so that was one reason. We felt the themes and the ideas and the story were something that our students would enjoy, as well as the general public.”
In addition to considering how the show would be received, Campbell said the make-up of the group that would be performing the show influenced the decision as well.
“The other factor is that we have a student body and a demographic that is more female-identifying,” he said. “And so we have a tendency to look at shows with a strong female cast and strong female leads. So that was another factor.”
Putting in the work
To get ready for this week’s performances, Campbell said the students involved put in a lot of hard work.
“It’s always intense,” he said. “It’s always a lot of long hours and emotional ups and downs. You know, we work hard, but I think that the end result speaks for itself. I think the students have really engaged in this project. We’ve had a lot of fun — a lot of laughs. But it’s hard work.”
Adding onto that work, Campbell said, are the lingering effects of COVID-19.
“I think, culturally, we’re still coming back to a place of normalcy after shut-downs and quarantines and things like that,” he said. “We’re still trying to navigate what normal feels like and our varying levels of comfort with that. And so I think we’re dealing with a lot more social issues within the program. We’re seeing a lot more anxiety on our campus than we have in the past. There’s different emotional challenges just with us as human beings that we’re dealing with right now.”
Campbell said that although this show does touch on some of those issues that students within the program and society as a whole are dealing with right now, it wasn’t the intention behind choosing “If/Then.”
“I don’t think that we were conscious and trying to find a show to sort of psychologize all of that,” he said. “But I think in doing this show, we found some ways to talk about choice and who we are and who we want to be. That was not initially intended to be a part of this process. It was one of those serendipitous sort of artistic, art-speaking-to-life, life-speaking-to-art kind of moments.”
Campbell’s favorite moment from putting the show together was when the cast performed the whole show a cappella.
“We weren’t able to have our orchestra come in for a rehearsal,” he said. “So the cast sang the whole thing a cappella and it was beautiful. They just did such a fantastic job. And I know that would be a challenge for so many professionals that I’ve worked with, and our students just rolled with it. They just took on the challenge and they did a phenomenal job of just being great performers.”
Not just at that rehearsal, but throughout the whole process Campbell said the students involved in the show have really risen to every challenge thrown at them.
“It’s a big show, in the scope of the show and all aspects from the performances to the technical demands to the design demands,” he said. “It’s a large-scale production and we are a relatively small program. And we tackled it and we took it on, and it’s turning out phenomenally.”
If you missed opening night, there are still opportunities to see the show.
Additional performances will be held Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in University Theatre on the UW-Green Bay campus.
More information and tickets are available at uwgb.edu/theatre.