Mental illness and family struggles are the subject of “Next to Normal,” a musical put on by the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.
The show will be performed April 4-6 and April 9-12 in the Studio Theatre in the Noel Fine Arts Center.
“Next to Normal” won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize as well as 3 Tony Awards. Departing from the typical “Broadway” sound, the show has a rock score.
The story follows a bipolar mother and a family fighting to keep itself together. Mental illness is an unusual topic for a musical, but it is written in a way that connects the audience with the characters according to director Tyler Marchant, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
“The writers of ‘Next to Normal’ were interested in challenging what musical theatre can be,” Marchant said. “Almost entirely sung, the show uses contemporary music styles to relate emotional issues.”
The emotionally demanding nature of the show has been a challenge for the six student cast members who connected with their characters by researching mental illnesses.
Cast and crew put in a lot of rehearsal hours to get ready. The rehearsal schedule was four hours a day, four days a week, with an eight-hour rehearsal on the weekend.
“One of the really great things about our theatre program is that these productions give us the opportunity to take what we’re learning in the classroom and apply it to a full-fledged production,” said assistant director Kathryn Kierzkowski.
“A lot of my role has been that of an observer during rehearsals and meetings, which has really allowed me to take in the entire process,” Kierzkowski said. “I’ve learned so much just being in the room. It’s been priceless. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.”
Kierzkowski says the material of the show has a definite impact on whoever watches it.
“The material is so rich that there’s always something new to discover or dig deeper into. Mental illness and how it affects the everyday lives of those who suffer from it as well as their family and friends is something millions struggle with everyday,” Kierzkowski said.
The show will be performed in the Studio Theatre which provided its own challenges. The band, normally secreted away in the orchestra pit of a theater, had to be placed in the hallway backstage and have their sound fed in through the sound system.
Another challenge was the lighting. Lighting designer Tyler Turinske had to get creative with lights and rotating mirrors to create the right atmosphere for the show.
Many people contribute their time and talents to putting on a show. One of the cogs in the machine is the stage crew, which organizes props, works the microphones and lights, and helps the production run smoothly.
One of the members of the stage crew, junior Justin Spanbauer, described the show as having a very different sound.
“The music as a whole is unbelievable. It’s a rock style, really engaging and emotional – not your typical musical. Anyone can enjoy it,” Spanbauer said. “It’s a very intimate show. It’s so powerful, especially in such a small space.”
There has been a buzz around the show since its announcement and tickets are limited in such a small theatre.
“It’s about people trying to survive, believing they can get healthy and that their family can be there for them. They are not striving to be perfect, but they hope for ‘Next to Normal,’” Marchant said.
“This notion that maybe we can’t be normal, but we can fight with all our hearts try to be next to normal, is something that I think everyone can relate to,” Kierzkowski said.
“Bring tissues,” Spanbauer said.