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Stage Left electrified the student theater experience

Stage Left, a student-run theater group at Miami, put on a rousing rendition of "The Percy Jackson Musical: The Lightning Thief."
Stage Left, a student-run theater group at Miami, put on a rousing rendition of "The Percy Jackson Musical: The Lightning Thief."

In collaboration with Miami Activities and Programming, student-run theater organization Stage Left struck gold November 10-12 with “The Percy Jackson Musical: The Lightning Thief.”

The musical, which is based on the book series by Rick Riordan, centers around a teenage demigod and his mythical friends who take an odyssey to recover the god of the sky’s lost lightning bolts. 

The venue, Harry T. Wilks Theater in Armstrong Student Center, got progressively busier, eventually filling every seat on Saturday as more people caught word of the free live arts performance.

Ava Shaffer, a junior creative writing and integrated English language arts education double major, supported her thespian friends by seeing all three nights. The cast shocked her with its talent.

“Miami isn’t a performing arts college, so the fact that these are students who could be sitting in a biology class and then go belt out a song on stage is really cool,” Shaffer said.

Growing up, Shaffer adored Riordan’s books. She felt the element of nostalgia and the buzz surrounding the upcoming television show made this the perfect choice for Miami.

“I’ve seen reposted YikYaks on social media and the hype for the musical has been prolific,” Shaffer said.

Photo by Ashleigh Brelage | The Miami Student
Actors perform a dance sequence during one of the show's musical numbers.

Shaffer enjoyed Stage Left’s slightly different interpretation of her favorite story, like its lean into a rock sound and its costumes, which added extra context whenever references brushed over the source material. Also, watching a non-binary actor lead a pointedly gender-neutral script enthused her.

“They could kind of go in whatever direction they wanted, which I think is really cool because the whole thing is about inclusivity and friendship,” Shaffer said. “It made it more interesting to watch and more accessible and relatable, even to the parents in the audience thinking back to their childhood when they were searching for acceptance.”

Riordan aims for diversity and inclusion in his books, which allows for more flexibility in creating adaptations.

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Kit Gladieux, a senior arts management and individualized studies double major, played Percy Jackson in the musical. They had already genderbent several characters, such as Pippin with Stage Left during their first year at Miami, since they started theater as a hobby at age seven.

“It’s a beast of a role,” Gladieux said. “Listening to the audiobooks to prepare gave me a much more sarcastic, biting sense of humor.”

With the guidance of Kat Ullery, vocal director for the show and senior music education major, they became much more comfortable portraying a male.

“I’m a mezzo-soprano usually, so playing a tenor and realizing that my singing range is much lower than I thought before was such a fun experience,” Gladieux said.

Abby Sokol, a junior theater and psychology double major and president for Stage Left, publicized the production so well she broke the group’s record for new recruits following the pandemic. She hopes to do educational theater after college and working on this gave her good insights into the professional world’s demands.3

“It was always really rewarding to provide resources to the team,” Sokol said. “One of my main focuses was helping everybody feel engaged and involved and like they had opportunities. Finalizing obtaining the rights was the hardest part of this production, but really it was mostly up to the director after that.”

Chelsea Hoy, a junior creative writing and English literature double major, directed the musical, but never expected to do theater at Miami. She loves writing plays instead, so she took this chance to learn how to bring text to life.

“Stage Left offers a lot of leadership roles, but also, it understands that we’re all students who do it straight for fun so it’s much more relaxed,” Hoy said. “It’s challenging to get around 50 people on the same page, especially during tech week when everything comes together, but it taught me to go with the flow.”

Hoy brainstormed about the musical constantly, including while studying abroad in London over the summer, where she revisited the books to collect accurate details for her staged version.

Rose Kurutz, sophomore arts management and strategic communication double major, led the choreography. She taught the ensemble from the second week of rehearsals all the way through the few days before opening.

Sydney Scepkowski, a senior professional writing and strategic communication double major, served as assistant director. She helped Hoy place subtle hints for fans of the original series within the set design, invoking juvenile whimsy by modeling her fake trees after the storytime corner at Barnes and Noble. 

Among other large pieces, Hoy had to store a drum set for her residence hall-residing underclassman drummer in her apartment, as well as get permission from percussion instructors to let the non-music major practice in a designated space. Another instrumentalist came from The Guitar Club of Miami Ohio.

“I cannot emphasize enough how good it was to have everyone I had,” Hoy said. “I love them so much.”

Like the campfire in its finale, “The Percy Jackson Musical: The Lightning Thief” succeeded in warming audiences’ hearts.