With a sadistic dentist, urban blight and a flesh-eating plant named Audrey II, “Little Shop of Horrors” is far from the typical musical. Falling into the unique category of horror comedy rock, the musical tells the story of a florist named Seymour who attempts to earn the affections of his co-worker Audrey with the help of a peculiar bloodthirsty plant— as one might expect, horror and hilarity ensues.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is the first show in a new program by the Drexel Co-Op Theatre Company called Come Early, Stay Late. The aim of the program is to bring the audience members more information and connectivity than they would typically get just by watching the shows. Ryan Schrader, senior finance major and general manager of the company, explained that the Co-Op Theatre Company wants to add value to the audience’s experience. The program was first utilized in the May 13 opening performance of “Little Shop of Horrors” in the Black Box Theater of the URBN Annex.
Sponsored by the Department of Performing Arts, the Co-Op Theatre Company is a section of Drexel University’s Theatre Program that brings hands-on experience to those interested in seeing the workings of a theater company at a professional level. Student opportunities range from assistant director to social media director to general manager of a production and seniors can even use these administrative roles for their senior projects, as Schrader is doing with his role of general manager. Since there is no theater major at Drexel, the students involved in these performances can come from any major in the university.
“The Drexel Theatre Program honestly is one of the most unique programs in the country and I think that is because you actually can’t major in theater here,” Bill Fennelly, director of “Little Shop of Horrors” and director and assistant professor of theater at Drexel, said.
“The amazing thing that happens here at Drexel in the Theatre Program and the Co-Op Theatre Company is you’re working with a team of performers and technicians who love making theater. So suddenly you have these really brilliant young minds from all of these different disciplines,” he continued. The students and professionals involved shared their passions for theater in the before and after commentary for Little Shop of Horrors. They mentioned how they collaborated together, working as hard as they can not because it’s required for their degree, but because they love doing it.
When discussing where the idea of the Come Early, Stay Late program originated, Schrader mentioned that Fennelly was involved in a similar program with a company in Dallas.
“Patrons in the area knew when they bought a ticket they weren’t just seeing the show, they were getting an added experience,” he explained.
Before each performance, Fennelly and assistant director Justin Allison, current film major at Drexel, discussed their techniques for directing, some history behind the musical and the process of how they made this performance unique.
“It’s basically a very casual talk-back … it’s not supposed to be a formal thing, we want people to ask questions whenever they want and trickle in from the lobby,” he continued, referring to the new program.
During the performance the actors involved the audience in several ways by making eye contact, singling out people to sing to and even physically interacting with the first row.
“It’s a very big musical and to put it in a smaller black box … changes how the audience can interact with the show,” Schrader said.
After the show several cast and crew members returned to the stage area to answer questions from the audience. They started off by explaining their routine to get ready for the show and the audience was told how much work and time went into the performance they had just witnessed. The Audrey II puppeteer and entertainment and arts management major, Joy Weir, explained how she enjoyed being able to do something totally different with this performance by working with the puppets of the plant.
She went on to say, “Puppeteering is hard … work in a physical way, but a lot less mentally straining.” She made the plant puppets move while biology major, Aman A Milliones-Roman, was the voice of Audrey II. The largest plant puppet Weir used was, by her estimation, at least 150 pounds.
“It’s like a big backpack and the bottom jaw is strapped to my waist and then the top jaw is like a bar,” she explained, referring to the bar that she moves to make the motion of the alien plant speaking.
Fennelly explained that having the puppets added to the morality of the play.
“Suddenly, when it’s not a flesh and blood human being, you have to impose humanity onto the thing so in some ways it becomes even more alive because you’re not taking its human essence for granted,” he said.
“It becomes an even more powerful reflection of human traits, conditions and ideas,” he continued.
Allison set the scene for the performance before the show.
“The script gives us that [“Little Shop of Horrors”] takes place in September of a year in the 1960s and Bill had the what I think was a very smart decision to set it in 1963 because of how important a year 1963 was to America,” he explained. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination were both pivotal moments in history from the year 1963.
Fennelly elaborated on and drew parallels between the volatility of the country in the time period the show is set in and the volatility of the nation now. “We are trying to contend with who we are as a nation and what is really driving us and what … we really value,” he stated, referring to the upcoming election.
The audience responded to the new Come Early, Stay Late program positively. “Definitely the best Drexel production I have ever seen … each of the cast members gave an outstanding performance, everyone’s motivations were on point and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the Drexel Community,” Zachary Renner, a sophomore architectural engineering major, said about the performance. The company plans to continue the Come Early, Stay Late program for future performances.
More information about the Co-Op Theatre Company can be found on their website at http://www.drexel.edu/performingarts/theatre/co-op-theatre-company/. The last couple of showings of “Little Shop of Horrors” will play at 8 p.m. on May 20 and 21 and at 2 p.m., May 21. Although the Facebook page says the show is sold out, those who arrive early will be put on a waiting list, and those on the waiting list will most likely receive tickets. Additionally, getting there early will allow viewers to participate in the first half of the Come Early, Stay Late program.