By Emma Hernando
November 7, 2017
Even with NYU’s progressive environment, it is rare to walk into a production meeting and be surrounded by women. While there have been pushes to increase inclusivity for women in theater, the Tisch New Theatre transformed that idea into a reality with its 10th anniversary production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” TNT’s return to the NYU community represents once again the opportunity to become involved in high-quality productions in real world environments, while also providing a space for students to make mistakes and learn from them.
Upon walking into SoHo Playhouse, where TNT’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” is currently running, it is easy to forget that TNT is a student-run organization. From the extremely high production value of the show to its enviable location in an Off-Broadway theater, there is very little that differentiates TNT from a professional theatre company. Furthermore, TNT has succeeded where other theater companies have failed. By placing women who are experts in their fields at the helm of the production, TNT is breaking the glass ceiling that exists within production and artistic teams.
I was thrilled at the opportunity to speak with some of these amazing women. As I sat down with director, choreographer and Gallatin junior Casey Whyland, musical director and Gallatin junior Alex Crosby, as well as the set design and stage management team, my main goal was to illuminate what differentiates this team from teams in which women are the minority or are absent altogether. Most of the cast agreed that the subject material of “Little Shop of Horrors” was a differentiating factor in itself. In a show where the main female character, Audrey, experiences domestic abuse — written off as an afterthought — the artistic team grappled with how to make her struggle apparent and define her as more than just a “blond bimbo.”
“We talked about it with scenic, costumes, props — it became a different approach,” Whyland said. “Just because she’s a woman in the ‘60s why does that automatically mean that she needs to be blonde and ditzy? There’s nothing wrong with that portrayal, but we wanted to do something different to create a new dynamic.”
Team members agreed they attempted to depict the concept of domestic abuse in a more nuanced way than was done other productions. Crosby added she noticed a different reaction as a result of this.
“[In most productions] it’s not really an event that [Audrey is] thrown around by Orin,” Crosby said. “It’s a nonevent and people usually dismiss it because he’s just like the funny dentist who’s crazy. [Whyland] has made a deliberate point to show that this is a man who is absolutely taking advantage of a woman and she is rendered powerless because he just has no sense of respect for her as a person. And it’s sad.”
Whyland said her ability to develop the character of Audrey was only made possible because the team was so understanding of its importance. Without the support of actors willing to undertake this topic and the design team, portraying such a sensitive topic would have been impossible.
For the most part, however, the team believed that gender was irrelevant.
“I don’t think about my gender while doing my work,” Crosby said. “It’s much more about — this is what I care about and this is what my focus is going into. When I’m surrounded by women I do feel more comfortable to do my work, the fact that I am a woman doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
The company seems to foster a spirit of both self-motivation and collaboration. The 75 individuals working on “Little Shop of Horrors” had no other reason to be there besides their desire learn and put on a quality show. Stage manager and Tisch sophomore Kate Wellhofer praised these qualities.
“I have never been a part of a show that is so communicative and so collaborative,” Wellhofer said. “Every single day I am literally in awe of how incredible communication is between every department. I mean just top to bottom you know everything going on in every department and that’s so helpful because it can inform your work.”
Despite the professional quality of its productions, what clarifies TNT’s status as a collegiate club is the learning environment fostered by the company that may not be accessible after college. Wellhofer said this might be the most rewarding part of participating in TNT.
“TNT provides space for you to fail and have to figure out how to make it work after that,” Wellhofer said..
Production manager and Steinhardt senior Emily Tang agreed, saying, “The problem with TNT is that you can’t do something right. There’s no one to tell you you’re doing something right, you just gotta give it your all, which is terrifying but also the best motivation.”
The fact that this environment encourages people to speak up and learn from their mistakes, makes the team work in a unique way. In a world where women in leadership positions are often labeled as bossy or aggressive, TNT is a refreshing space that allowed women to overcome these stereotypes and get the job done.
“I”m very against confrontation, so this has been a good experience because I have learned to communicate my needs,” scenic designer and Tisch senior Kassidy Curtis-Lugo said. “Navigating that with our peers and our friends is one thing [but now we are] able to apply that to once we move out into the real world.”
TNT is a unique place where this blend of discovery and professionalism can occur, which is essential not only to the NYU community, but to the professional theater world that these women are about to step into.
“I truly think that every woman sitting in here is a natural leader, we have these positions [and] are trusted with these jobs because we feel comfortable being in these positions where we delegate and make these decisions,” associate scenic director and Tisch junior Taylor Friel said. I think that’s really important. We are naturally strong, amazing women [who have] that natural power.”