This weekend, events were scattered throughout campus for students and alumni alike. The Alumni Cabaret on Saturday, Sept. 21 in the Recital Hall was a treat for all who attended. Presented by the Fishbowl Collective and hosted by Joseph Spiotta, the event was one individuals would not want to miss, and clearly they didn’t, as the room was filled to the brim with current students, past students and professors.
The alumnus ranged from recently graduated members of the class of 2010 to the class of 2019. Among the performers were graduates Seana Benz ‘14, Eric Thompson ‘10, Taylor Beckman ‘17, Josh Shapiro ‘13, Ellie Swartz ‘19, Evan Plaza ‘19, Emily Martinez ‘12 and Kyle Watkins ‘19. As the performers came together, they spread a message of positivity and faith in oneself, because you never know when “Something’s Coming,” as Watkins sang.
Swartz had a robust support system on Saturday. It was no surprise, because her voice was astonishing, matching her song choice, “Astonishing” from Little Women. Not only were her friends who still attend Muhlenberg in the audience, but her vocal coach was as well. Her brother Jacob Swartz ‘23, a new member to the Muhlenberg community, attended as well. Swartz was a 2019 graduate and most recently played Eva in this summer’s production of Bring It On: The Musical. Now, she is making her theatrical dreams a reality as she packs her bags to go on Enchantment Theatre Company’s second National Tour as Peter Rabbit in Peter Rabbit Tales. A special moment was shared between Swartz’s co-star from Bring It On: The Musical Evan Plaza as they closed out the show with “I See the Light” by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater from the hit Disney movie Tangled.
Fellow classmate and friend of Swartz Kyle Watkins shared his thoughts on Muhlenberg’s theatre department. Before attending classes at ‘Berg, Watkins said his view was “one dimensional.” At college, he says he “got to shape [his] character as an artist or a theatre-maker not as much as an actor going into an industry being one mechanic.” He said he became a more well-rounded performer who has multiple skills to use both onstage and behind the scenes.
Josh Shapiro, who performed “I’ll Jump” from The Extraordinary Ordinary, now lives in Roosevelt Island, N.Y., where he teaches at Mainstreet Theatre and Dance Alliance Theatre. During his time at Muhlenberg, he participated in many of the summer musicals, including, but not limited to, Jesus Christ Superstar, On the Town, Spamalot, Seussical, An American Tragedy and The Music Man. When he was not onstage, he began to develop his own musicals.
Sinternet and The Butler Convention were two shows he began at Muhlenberg as a student, and they helped further his career. Sinternet, a play about a college professor who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the destruction of the internet, opened up the door for graduate school at NYU for a degree in playwriting. The Butler Convention, a murder mystery musical where every character is a butler, now has prospects for an Off-Broadway production in the next year. The play initially started as a thirty-minute play here at Muhlenberg during the Red Door Play Festival.
“It’s a demanding job, but a great job,”explained Shapiro. Earlier in his occupation, he used some of the technical skills he learned as an undergraduate to further his ambitions. He says, “all actors at least do a few jobs switching hats backstage because A. you get an appreciation for everything and B. the shows you know and love are very different from backstage.”
Emily Martinez, who sang “Heaven on Their Minds” from the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, talked about how creating something of her own gave her inspiration to continue on her path of theatre performance. Now, she has her own YouTube channel for tips and tricks for auditioning. Martinez wanted to tell current theatre students that “growth doesn’t end at Muhlenberg. Muhlenberg is a great stepping stone to launch you into what you want to go into. Whether that’s in the arts, or whether that’s in any career you want to go into.” She remembered people telling her she could never sing rock, but “Muhlenberg gave [her] that work ethic and that drive” to do what she wanted.
When host Joseph Spiotta opened up the floor to the audience members to share their Muhlenberg memories, they couldn’t help but to recall their fond recollections of the Orange Eating Contest. Additionally, an event named “Spring Sing” was mentioned by audience members who were roommates and among the first class of women here at Muhlenberg. For this competition, each floor of a girl’s dorm building would use the music of a popular song, rewrite the lyrics and sing it in the lounge. The women did not fail to mention that they were the winners of their year. The women told their story, but what they found most beautiful was the younger alumni “telling their stories.”
The Alumni Cabaret was less of a concert and more of a bonding experience between Muhlenberg students of the past and of the present. A link was shared between all of the individuals in the room, a link of a shared song, school and family.