West Liberty University took its show on the road this summer as Professor Michael Aulick and student Spencer Thomas were involved in the new musical, “Wh@If,” staged in New York City this July.
“This was the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to direct a play at the Midtown International Theater Festival was unbelievable,” said Aulick, who has been with West Liberty for three years. Written by Wheeling playwright Jeremy Richter, the show revolves around a character named Jared Finn. Much of the action takes place in Jared’s head as he ponders what is happening behind the door of his fiancee’s home when he hears another man’s voice.
“This is my first experience directing a New York production and it has allowed Spencer to get his first New York credit on his resume before he turned 23. It was a huge element to add to his professional resume! He’s my first student in 15 years of teaching to get NYC experience while still a student,” added Aulick, who teaches acting and directing, as well as some of the theatre’s theory and criticism classes.
A resident of Weirton, W.Va., Thomas is in his junior year at WLU and is a theater major. He was the sound and light designer for the musical and enjoyed the experience tremendously.
“I learned things by doing that I couldn’t have learned in the classroom or working on school shows. The New York experience helped me to see how things work professionally. It was an invaluable experience,” he said. “Because it was a new show it was hard work but the audience seemed to enjoy it.”
Thomas has designed many shows at West Liberty including the recent “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” produced this past spring as a student production. This production will be reprised with an all-alumni cast Aug. 30 – 31 and Sept. 1 – 2 in Kelly Theater as the new school year opens on the Hilltopper campus.
“Wh@tIf,” was performed five times over three weeks in the Midtown Theatre Festival that included 20 productions of new plays and musicals, presented to New York audiences this summer. The annual summer festival cultivates theater in New York and beyond and is in its 13th year.
“We travelled back and forth from Wheeling to New York over the summer, working on the show so we had numerous hours on the bus, sleeping in cheap hostels and getting lost on the subways, so the experience was important in more ways than one,” added Aulick.
While in NYC, the WLU group worked with many New York actors, stage managers and theater pros. Plus, they had a chance to see a few Broadway shows.
They also met up with Broadway actor and Wheeling Park High School graduate Aaron Galligan-Stierle, who stopped by and watched a rehearsal to give them a few tips.
Also experiencing the New York theater scene in a slightly different way was WLU junior Cassie Hackbart, another theater major from Masontown, W.Va. She was accepted into the summer intensive program with the prestigious Stella Adler Studio.
While there she also auditioned for American Idol and The Voice. Though she didn’t advance past the auditions it was a great career experience for her. She also volunteered as an usher for New World Stages and enjoyed a lot of great theatre.
Just as valuable was Hackbart’s experience living in New York since she had to find and sublet an apartment in the city for 10 weeks as she got her first taste of big city life.
“It was really a once in a lifetime experience and I intend to go back next summer and make theater my career,” Hackbart said.
“The training she received was top notch and has added to the educational foundation she is getting at WLU,” said Professor Aulick. “New York is like artistic steroids. These summer opportunities will allow our students to get better faster.” Aulick is a faculty member in theCollege of Arts and Communication, which was created in 2010 and is comprised of the departments of journalism, communication studies and visual arts, music and theatre.
For more information on the programs offered by the college, please email Dr. William Baronak, the dean of the College of Arts and Communication, at [email protected]