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Anderson Students to Transform Theater into Circus in Presentation of Barnum

This year Anderson University’s theater students are stretching to achieve their goals—literally. They are also walking tight ropes, flying on trapezes, tumbling and juggling.

Not to worry: the Anderson University Playhouse has not run away and joined the circus. Instead, the AU Playhouse will bring a taste of the circus to AU. From Wednesday, Oct. 24 to Saturday, Oct. 27, Henderson Auditorium will house Barnum, a musical based on the life of P. T. Barnum, the nineteenth century entertainer who brought to the world the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The AU show times are 7: 30 p.m. Tickets for Barnum are on sale now in the AU box office at 864-231-2080.

Since the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) added musical theater as a major in 2009, the theater department has grown exponentially, with about half of theater students majoring in musical theater. Dr. David Larson, dean of the CVPA, says that the college has added new programs every year for the last six years, which provides the growing number of students with new, exciting opportunities.

Now, Barnum offers students a chance to broaden their experience. In addition to the usual demands of character development, memorization, singing, and dancing, actors this year can add “practice magic tricks” to their to-do lists.

“Almost everyone in the cast has had to come out of their comfort zone to learn something new to make the show feel like a circus,” says sophomore Peter Crawford, who will play the role of P. T. Barnum.

The show’s director, Dr. Deborah McEniry, says the students have worked hard to bring the circus to Anderson. In fact, she says that many students began learning tricks before the school year began.

“They’ve just been extremely professional,” McEniry says.

Senior Sarah-Jane Fawcett, who will play the role of Charity Barnum, P. T. Barnum’s wife, says that she has been stretched vocally. One song in particular, called “One Brick at a Time,” has challenged her, but it has also become her favorite part of the show.

“It’s been the greatest challenge and the most rewarding,” she says.
For Crawford, Barnum represents a milestone: it is the first lead role of his acting career.

“It’s stretched me in almost every aspect,” he says. At the same time, Crawford has grown to feel comfortable in the shoes of a showman and dreamer. While researching the historical Barnum and studying the script, Crawford says he has found that he shares many personality traits with Barnum, including a sense of what Crawford dubs “childhood wonderment.”

Fawcett agrees, saying, “It’s just fun to work with someone who really is Barnum.” Reflecting on her own character, Fawcett sees Charity Barnum as the one who believes in Barnum, admires his vision, and helps him fulfill his dreams. Barnum’s role as a visionary is part of what draws McEniry to the show.

“That is what I think I love about the story,” she says. “He was a dreamer who went after his dream 100 percent and succeeded.”

In some ways, Barnum was like the theater artists telling his story.

“We are big dreamers,” McEniry says. “I definitely can feel some of his pain and some of his joy,” she adds.

As a director, McEniry has her own dream for Barnum: “We’re hoping we can make everyone want to join the circus by the time the production is over—even if it is just for a few moments,” she says.

When the curtain rises on Oct. 24, the audience will get a taste of child-like wonderment, the magic of the circus. The theater artists will solidify new skills. After all, not everyone can write “trapeze artist” on a resume.

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