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Orientation mystery solved

Stage Troupe recruits freshmen with Arsenic and Old Lace

This summer, Boston University’s oldest student theater group is welcoming new arrivals with a little dose of murder.

The student-run company Stage Troupe is producing the comic murder mystery Arsenic and Old Lace at each of this year’s orientation sessions, entertaining incoming freshmen and their parents. After each Wednesday night show, the company also offers the newcomers a chance to talk to older students and learn about joining the company and participating in other University activities.

“Most of the cast and crew members of Arsenic are involved with other groups as well, so we try to give them a balanced sense of the opportunities available to them at BU,” says Kevin Gonzales (COM’08), vice president of the group.

Gonzales recently spoke with BU Today about selecting the summer show and the pressures of performing for an orientation crowd.

BU Today: How did you select Arsenic and Old Lace as the summer show?

Gonzales: The summer show is selected by a special process: as with all Stage Troupe shows, shows are first proposed by students who wish to direct them, but unlike other shows that are then voted on by the membership, the summer show proposals are reviewed by our advisor in consultation with the Office of the Dean of Students. 

Since the summer show is targeted toward incoming freshmen and we want to leave strong, positive first impressions, the summer show is always lighthearted, fun, and engaging — and since it allows us to recruit new members before they even arrive at BU, we put a lot of effort into producing the highest quality show. We also concentrate on shows that can be produced with the somewhat reduced pool of actors and technicians available to us in the summer.

The summer show is open to any current student, alum, or faculty or staff member who will be in Boston for the entire summer and wants to make the commitment to the show.  Among our notable past participants is Dean of Students Kenn Elmore, who acted for us in 1998, prior to becoming dean.

When does your rehearsal process start?

The process began with auditions, which were held the first weekend in May. We began rehearsing the show after finals were over in mid-May. That gave the cast and crew only five weeks to put up the show.

Since we do not have our full complement of students to produce the show, many people working on the show have multiple jobs. For example, Nikki Wittrock (ENG’07) not only plays the lead, Abby Brewster, but she also designed and built the set. I’m credited as the stage manager, the assistant technical director, and playing the roles of Mr. Hoskins, Mr. Spenalzo, and Officer O’Hara.

Is the orientation group a good audience?

We love performing in front of incoming freshmen! The orientation students are always very excited to be here, and we use that enthusiasm from the audience and really bring the show to life on stage. By the middle of the first act everyone is laughing and the energy in the room just skyrockets. We realize that the orientation groups have a variety of activities to choose from, and we are honored that they came to see us.

It’s also fun knowing that much of the audience is sitting there thinking, that could be me next year.

When you talk to orientation participants after the shows, what kinds of questions do they have?

There is a lot of concern about balancing school and extracurricular activities — will they have time to be in Troupe but still keep up in their studies? We are honest with them and tell them balancing school and extracurricular activities can be challenging, but they can make it work. We tell them that they can choose their commitment levels and encourage them to find the balance that allows them to succeed both as students and as Stage Troupe members.

Others want to know how competitive auditions are, what kind of experience do they need, or how do they get involved. Stage Troupe’s motto is Learning by Doing, and we encourage everyone who is interested in theater to come out and join our ranks. Whether they devote one day to Troupe or the whole semester, we’d like to have them!

Arsenic and Old Lace runs Wednesdays through July 26 in the Black Box Theater at Agganis Arena. The show begins at 8 p.m., and all performances are free and open to the public.