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Stage Left prepares for spring production of "First Date"

The second to last rehearsal of the week for Stage Left's spring musical was about to begin.

"Alright guys, let's start with lip trills going up and down," vocal director Clare Schuch said as she stood behind the piano waiting to start vocal warm ups with the actors.

Director Olivia Semsel, assistant director and choreographer Alyssa Henkelman and stagehands Emily Brady and Megan Bowers set up the rehearsal room with chairs and tables, while the actors popped in and out of vocal warm ups to set their props and costumes for the run.

Energy ran high as the cast circled up to go over last minute notes and perform a "shake out" to warm themselves up physically.

The actors got into place as Schuch began to play the intro music on the piano. Both Semsel and Henkelman opened their scripts and notebooks to take notes. Actor Jake O'Brien was the first to walk on stage, followed by the rest of the cast. They performed a hilarious opening number filled with punchlines, innuendos and an animated choreography.

"Expect to laugh a lot, then cry, then laugh some more," Semsel said.

"First Date," written by Austin Winsberg with music by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, is a one-act contemporary musical featuring a small cast of seven. The story follows Aaron and Casey, two polar opposite characters who were set up on a blind date. All of their baggage is put out on the table as the supporting characters portray the voices of family members, friends and exes in their heads, making for a very unconventional meal between the two of them.

Actor Chris LaMendola finds himself to be a lot like Aaron, the character he's playing.

"He's a very awkward guy who doesn't really go on dates and doesn't really know how to handle himself on this date with Casey," LaMendola said. "His personality really speaks to me on an emotional level."

Casey, played by actress Paige Galberg, is the tough guarded girl who calls herself a "serial dater." She goes on a bunch of dates and finds herself with all these horrible men, not being able to commit herself to a long-term relationship.

"I do find myself relating to her in a way," Galberg said. "Casey sings a song titled 'Safer' about how she keeps building up these brick walls and not letting anyone in, which is why she can't find herself in a good relationship. I haven't had a lot of serious relationships, but the ones I've had haven't been too long which I think helps me bring a lot to the show and my character."

With a cast of only seven, both Semsel and Henkelman have had time to digest the script with each individual actor.

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"I didn't want anyone to feel like just because they weren't a lead they wouldn't get any attention," Semsel said. "Which is why I chose this show. It's been a treat being able to spend time with each actor and designate time to work with the vocal director individually, and I think it's done nothing but help them."

Henkelman agreed with Semsel.

"There's really nowhere to hide in the show because there are only seven actors," Henkelman said. "We've spent so much time making sure things were high and tight, and we've had the time to do that because it is such a small show."

Semel and Henkelman have taken to an intriguing social media marketing plan in order to promote the show: fake Tinder profiles.

"We were throwing around ideas of something like a 'get to know the cast,' and we eventually landed on the idea of creating fake Tinder profiles," Henkelman said. "It's a recognizable platform, especially on college campuses."

Each fake profile includes a headshot of each actor, the name of the character they're portraying, age and a small bio that lists their personal interests and what they're looking for in a relationship. The graphics include funny lines from the show and "like" and "dislike" buttons at the top of each profile.

"It's fun and easy, and we've been able to post the fake profiles on Stage Left's social media accounts relatively consistently and early on in the process of rehearsals," Henkelman said.

While this is one of the smaller shows Stage Left has done in recent years, recent ASG funding cuts still affected the potential of the production.

"What kept us afloat was the fact that there was no shortage of people ready to step in and help us," Semsel said. "The cast, members of Stage Left, Stage Left alumni and faculty were so responsive in helping us brainstorm solutions. There's something special about our community coming together to put on this production."

As the cast finished up their final scene of the run through, they rehearsed bows, went over notes and worked trouble spots to prepare themselves for the move to Wilks Theater.

"From this show, I hope the audience realizes that just because getting to know people and having good relationships with others is difficult, [it] doesn't mean it's not worth it," Semsel said. "It's more rewarding to put yourself out there than to keep your walls up. In the long run, you're going to be happier for it."

While Semsel recognizes the overriding emotional theme to the show, there are many moments in the show that will make you laugh.

"My favorite moment of the show is probably when I come to the realization that I do kind of like Aaron," Galberg said. "Aarons freezes with a pickle spear in his mouth while I deliver a monologue and it's so funny to look at him with the pickle spear in his mouth."

Stage Left will perform "First Date: The Musical" at 8 p.m. on April 26-28 in Wilks Theater. Admission is free.

smithd21@miamioh.edu

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