Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Making a Difference Through Song - Vandy Students Give Back

By Byrne Harrison

Thanks to a Facebook posting by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, I found out that a group of students at my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, recently made a significant donation to the organization.  I had a feeling it would be one of the theatre groups.  After a little sleuthing, I discovered that it was made by Vanderbilt Off-Broadway (VOB), a student-run theatre group founded several years after I graduated.

I reached out to Michael Greshko, Vanderbilt class of '14 and the current president of VOB, to find out more and to congratulate the group on supporting one of my favorite charities.

Vanderbilt Off-Broadway started a number of years after I graduated from Vanderbilt.  Tell me a little bit about the group.

Vanderbilt Off-Broadway--or VOB, as we're commonly known--is a performing arts troupe at Vanderbilt University that prides itself on being the only student organization at Vanderbilt that produces full-length, fully student-produced musicals. Born out of a brainstorming session at a 1997 fraternity party, VOB has gone on to put on nineteen productions, performing everything from massive, classic shows like Guys and Dolls--our first production--to modern, more intimate works like The Last Five Years. Now in our fifteenth season, we pride ourselves on doing everything with student talent: Our shows are student-directed, student-produced, student-designed, student-choreographed, and feature a top-notch student orchestra.

Do the VOB members have hopes of making it to Broadway, or do they just share a love of performance and musical theatre?

We're fortunate to have a diversity of people join VOB; some people in the group are gunning for careers in professional theatre, while others are more interested in it as an artistic and social extracurricular activity. What binds everyone together, though, is a deep love of musical theatre and performance, a bind that reflects itself in VOB's tightness. It becomes a second family to many of its members, myself included.

What are some of the shows VOB's done recently?

Since 2011, we've offered two shows a year: a larger mainstage production in January and a smaller second show in April. In the last few years, we've done mainstage productions of Urinetown, Nine, and Reefer Madness, keeping it pretty modernThis past January, we put on our 2012-2013 mainstage production, The Drowsy Chaperone, setting attendance records in the process. Our second shows have included I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and The Last Five Years.

Tell me a little bit about your recent Athenian Sing performance.

Photo by Jessie Rodriguez
Athenian Sing is a time-honored tradition at Vanderbilt. Founded in the late 1930s by then-student Dinah Shore, the event has become a massive performing arts showcase and friendly competition for charity. A panel of judges, assembled from Vanderbilt's faculty, rank the acts, with the top three places winning money for their charity of choice. In the past, VOB hasn't performed at Athenian Sing; the event's in October, and we usually don't have anything ready from our upcoming January show. This year, though, we decided to put together a performance of "Pandemonium," from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, as VOB's act in Athenian Sing. After some fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants rehearsals and clever closet-mining for costumes, we performed it to delightfully excited reactions from the audience and judges. It was a ton of fun, and I'm glad we did it; not only did we have a blast our first time out, but we also came in second place!

Your second-place finish led to a $1,000 donation to BC/EFA.  Why did you choose that charity?

Since VOB's early days, we've been committed toward joining our professional brethren in supporting BC/EFA for the tremendous work that they do in supporting the performing arts community and broader populations threatened by HIV/AIDS. It's amazing to be even a small part of what BC/EFA does, and we're proud to support them through our fundraising and educational efforts. We hope do do even more with BC/EFA and its local Nashville partners in the years to come.

I understand you'll be making another donation using proceeds donated by the audience of one of your recent shows.  What was the show?

Yes, we used our closing performance of The Drowsy Chaperone in January to raise money for and awareness of BC/EFA.

What kind of reaction did you get from the audience when you asked them to donate?

Our audience was incredibly generous and receptive to learning more about BC/EFA. Not only did we collect over $450 for BC/EFA in one night, but through material in all of our programs and a pre-show speech about BC/EFA from an esteemed Vanderbilt music professor, we did a lot to get BC/EFA's message out to our audience. For me, that's the most rewarding thing.

What is coming up for VOB for the rest of the semester?

In early April, we'll be putting on one of Nashville's first local productions of Spring Awakening, which is a thrill for us. We'll also be performing in several on-campus showcases throughout the spring, and there's a chance that we'll be performing parts of an original, student-written musical in mid to late April.

Photo by John Boyd

If you're in Nashville and want to check out a VOB show, you can see Spring Awakening on April 4, 5 and 6 at the Sarratt Student Center Cinema.  Performances are at 8 PM and are free for Vanderbilt undergrads.  All others pay $5.

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