c/o Angelina Reddy

c/o Angelina Reddy

“Pippin”—a Noisy Visuals production co-directed by Henry Owens ’25, Owen Wiley ’25, and Norman Slate ’25 and produced by Lily Goldfine ’25—was filmed in front of a live studio audience on Friday, April 26, Saturday, April 27, and Sunday, April 28 in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall. Combining a production of the 1972 musical “Pippin” written by Stephen Schwartz with a live studio audience and footage of the actors projected onto a large screen behind them, this production was like nothing the University had ever seen. 

“Pippin” begins with the Leading Player (Jamie Steinman ’24) and their group of traveling performers inviting the audience to watch their show, which follows the titular Pippin (Emma Somol ’27), a new actor in their troupe. As the audience watches, Pippin is on a musical journey to figure out the meaning of his life, having experiences with war, politics, love, and sex on his way; his life is played out on the big screen and the stage, setting up a show within a show. The film crew and live audience are tasked with helping the production stay on course, providing yet another theatrical setup through audience involvement. After Pippin makes his way through these various journeys, he eventually realizes that he won’t find a defined purpose and that he needs to create a path for himself, finally ending his performance.

Though “Pippin” premiered this semester, it has been a year-long work in progress. The creative team worked on their vision for this production since the beginning of last semester. Owens brought on Angelina Reddy ’25 as their music director and Wiley and Slate as co-directors in December of last year, giving them time over winter break to get prepared for rehearsals in the spring. 

“I was brought on…in December, and so then I spent winter break learning the music and figuring out what my place was in it and how I was gonna contribute,” Reddy said. “So basically we had backing tracks and rehearsal and performance tracks as part of the package that we bought with the rights, so I didn’t have to conduct a pit or anything, but I did teach all the music, all the vocals, and it sounded awesome.” 

Even though the directors and crew members have been involved since last semester, casting for characters only began in late January and early February. The cast was rounded out by Catherine (Liv Snow ’25), Fastrada (Abigail Grauer ’27), Berthe (Fana Schoen ’24), Charles (Nat Wheeler ’25), Lewis (Max Soley ’25), and Theo, who also played a cast of ensemble characters including Noble and Peasant (Stuart Conrad ’26). 

The scale of the production was massive, requiring a large crew to make everything run smoothly. Kay Perkins ’24 and Nate Simon ’24 were involved as the video switcher and video editor respectively. Perkins had three camera operators—Mia Alexander ’26, Georgina Goldbart ’24, and Isaias Pagan ’26—working to capture the stage from multiple angles. The rest of the crew on the film side included key grip Simon Whitus ’25, best boy grip Jingyi Liu ’27, hair and makeup by Evelyn Grandfield ’25, poster designer Soren Stokes ’27, and additional camera operators Lisa Lu ’27 and Jenny Ongele ’26. 

c/o Pippin

c/o Angelina Reddy

On the more theatrical side, the crew included lighting designers Alex White ’26 and Cassie Wo ’27, puppet designer Maya Lozea ’26, props designer Mae Cohen ’27, costume designer By Martinez-Castaneda ’24, sound mixer Wiley, intimacy coordinator Lily Lewis ’27, and music assistant Gavin Cui ’26. Overall, the huge group of people successfully came together to create a magical and incredibly creative production. Somol discussed the complexities of being a part of a production that was both theatrical and filmic. 

“I’m a freshman, so I’m still meeting a lot of theater people on campus,” Somol said. “It was just really fun to get to know more theater people and get involved in more theater projects. This was a very unique project. For me, I’ve never…done anything like being filmed while also being on stage, and that was just really incredible and unique and also really impressive that the crew pulled everything off and did it so well in such a short amount of time.” 

The creative inspiration for this multimedia production of “Pippin” struck Owens after he performed in the show in high school and felt that he could only imagine it as a movie. Last year, he pitched the production to Spike Tape, who didn’t approve it because they are only involved in semester-long projects, then Noisy Visuals—an audiovisual arts collective that has sponsored everything from this production of “Pippin” to raves on campus—picked up the show. 

Despite the ambitious scale of this project, combining multiple complicated theatrical and filmic elements, the cast and crew were satisfied with how it turned out. One success that they highlighted was their version of the song “With You,” which, in the Broadway musical, is an orgy scene. In their version of “Pippin,” the cast and crew worked with Uday Narayanan ’24 to create a video sequence that played during the song involving Pippin having an AI girlfriend, scrolling through Tinder, and—on the final night of the show—directed the cameras back at the audience for a kiss cam. Wiley discussed how they came to the conclusion that they wanted to include a kiss-cam as part of the montage that played on screen during the seven-minute run time of the song. 

“We had lots of inter-director debates about [the kiss cam]…we all agreed it was a good idea, in theory,” Wiley said. “We wanted to figure out how to best do it so as to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, like they had to kiss on-screen…. Friday night, we hadn’t finished those conversations, and so we didn’t include it. Over the course of Saturday, we talked through it and we decided how we would do it…but the QLab file did not work, so we had to skip it, and then we did it on Sunday.” 

The directors spent a lot of time working out how to do the kiss cam without causing discomfort to audience members who were put on screen. 

“What we did was we had it start with Henry and Kay,” Wiley said. “They’re like ‘Oh, we don’t want to kiss,’ they fist bump to try and set up the idea that even though you’re on the kiss-cam, you don’t actually have to do anything. And we gave a little disclaimer at the beginning of the show being like audience participation is welcome but it is by no means mandatory.”

Conrad, who played both Theo and a series of ensemble characters, invited his aunt and uncle to the performance and they ended up featured on the kiss-cam. 

“So for the Sunday performance, my aunt and uncle, who met at Wesleyan, came to the performance,” Conrad said. “In fact, they met in Ring Hall, possibly in those seats. So it was a perfect little moment.” 

Another aspect of the production of “Pippin” that allowed for joy and creativity was the role of the Leading Player a non-binary person. Steinman, who is non-binary, appreciated getting to play a character that aligned with their gender identity for the first time during their theater career here. 

“Something that I really enjoyed about being in ‘Pippin’ is I got to play an actual non-binary character,” Steinman said. “The leading player is a character that is very much not gender[ed] in any version of the script, and typically, as a non-binary person I’m either forced to play my assigned gender at birth, or if I do get to play someone who is not of my assigned gender at birth, it’s usually a very draggy older women…. Playing my own gender, for when theater [often] fits into a gender binary, is very rare and I feel very honored to be able to do that.” 

c/o Angelina Cohen

c/o Angelina Cohen

Even though most of the production ran incredibly well, the play was not without its challenges. Wiley mentioned having troubles finding a venue for the production, going over budget and needing to spend money out of pocket for some of the props and set pieces, and struggling to find actors amid the numerous other plays happening on campus this semester. 

“I think it turned out fantastic with a cast of eight and [our] ensemble, but obviously that was not our original goal,” Wiley said. “We wanted to have an ensemble of at least two or three extra people…and then on the tech side, we had camera ops and then some of them dropped and so we had to find new people. It was just toeing the line between figuring out what we need people to do and what Henry and Norman and Lily and I can do, which ended up being a lot.” 

For their part, the actors loved being a part of the production. Conrad discussed the scope of the production and how much they enjoyed getting an opportunity to act in it. 

“This felt like one of the biggest productions I think I’ve done at Wesleyan,” Conrad said. “There’s so many moving parts and so many things…and it was just absolutely incredible to get to be whatever part of it I got to play. This was awesome.”

Soley was especially excited to be in “Pippin” as this was his first foray into theater at the University. 

“I just literally was walking through Usdan and saw a flyer and I was like, you know, I’m nearing the end of my Wesleyan career, I feel like I’ll regret it if I don’t get involved in theater in some way,” Soley said. “And now I’m so glad that I did because it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences at Wesleyan.” 

Solely appreciated the way that being in “Pippin” allowed him to explore a side of himself he doesn’t normally get to experience while being a college student. 

“I just feel like I identify with really dumb characters because it lets me live in a part of myself that I don’t really get to as a college student,” Solely said. “I feel like we have to present ourselves [as] intelligent and cultured, and I really enjoy the opportunity to just ditch that and be dumb for a night.”

All of the cast and crew noted a lack of interpersonal drama and conflict, which they heavily appreciated and felt added to the friendly and joyful atmosphere of the production. Abigail Grauer ’27, who played Fastrada, discussed the happiness being part of “Pippin” brought her. 

“Personally, my favorite part of the show, the reason that I do almost all theater all the time is the cast,” Grauer said. “I absolutely adored the entirety of the cast and crew in ‘Pippin.’ Everyone was just absolutely not only extremely talented, but kind…. Everyone works so hard to make it fun and inclusive of all skill levels, but most of all, everyone was just so kind and welcoming.” 

Caleb Henning can be reached at chenning@wesleyan.edu

Jacob Srivastava can be reached at rsrivastava@wesleyan.edu

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