May 16, 2016

Music students part of production in Ireland

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The Gaiety School of Acting, also known as The National Theatre School of Ireland, hosts a program in which a director, a playwright, and a group of university students create from scratch a play to perform at the Smock Alley Theatre 1662 in Dublin at the conclusion of the workshop period – about two weeks. Most universities send drama students. Southern Illinois University Carbondale sends students from the School of Music. 

Susan Davenport, director of choral activities, said SIU is the only American school so far to bring music students to an acting school. It’s not that she misread the directions. It’s that it works. SIU sent music students to Ireland in 2012, and Davenport previously worked with the Gaiety School of Acting with music students, and she’s happy with the results. 

This year, she and Christopher Morehouse, director of bands, are bringing 18 students, all of them enrolled in either the SIU Wind Ensemble of the SIU Concert Choir, to the Original Theatre Concert Project from May 17 to June 5. The students didn’t audition – they’d done that already to qualify for ensemble membership. But they did submit an explanation about what they wanted to do in such a project and what musical or dramatic or creative contribution they could make. 

“When we arrive, Director Patrick Sutton and playwright Martin Maquire will do lots of preliminary work with the students so they can get a sense of what each student can do with a dramatic situation,” Davenport said. The preliminary work includes intensive workshops in improvisation and acting as the students, director and playwright explore a broad range of ideas. 

Davenport and Morehouse will work with the students on the musical part of the project – “showing the Irish guys what the kids can do musically,” Davenport said. 

The director and playwright already have a general notion about what they will do – the play has a title, a few characters and a plot outline already: “Malacoda’s Bridge: The Ninth Circle of Hell.” And it has performance dates: June 1-2 at the Smock Alley Theatre 1662, next door to the Gaiety School. 

Davenport explained that the director and playwright will get to know the SIU students, and as they find their strengths and learn their talents, the two will develop characters and fill out the storyline. The students will help develop songs, dances and story ideas as they learn to present these ideas on stage. 

“This is a perfect project for the students to take their musical studies and put them to work to make this project a success,” Davenport said. 

Davenport said the project gives her and Morehouse an opportunity to stretch their own teaching skills. 

“Creatively, working with Patrick and Martin allows us to broaden our own work beyond the rehearsal room or concert hall,” she said. “It challenges us to use our own skills in new and different ways.” 

The students will work long and hard in the theater, but they’ll also have a chance to experience Ireland’s rich culture off stage. They’ll attend several plays, including a performance of “Othello” at the famous Abbey Theater, take Irish dancing lessons, visit museums, including the William Butler Yeats exhibit and the Killmainham Gaol where the Easter Rising of 1916 prisoners were executed, visit Belfast and other outings. Davenport noted they’ll have some sort of cultural visit nearly every day they are in Ireland. 

Students participating in the project are, by hometown:


Calumet City – Arthur Scoleri

Carbondale – Aubrianna Rathunde

Carterville – Taylor Dunning

Du Quoin – Caleb Gomes

Edwardsville – Eleanor Sullivan

Murphysboro – Rachel Brady

North Aurora – Yazmin Celaya

Oak Forest – William Radtke

Smithton – Joshua Armbruster

Wheaton – Erin Ryan


Laguna Hills – Jacqueline Blackburn


Baltic – Katrina Walczyk


Beverly – Ben Handler


Davison – Deanna Leach


Morrison – Brittney Leimkuehler

St. Louis – Ethan Trimble


Dayton – James Vilseck


Luxemborg – Emma Wallander