Trustus Theatre embraces the obstacles of young adulthood with its current production, "The Mad Ones," a musical that tackles these unknowns while giving newcomers and USC students an opportunity to make their Trustus debut.
The production, directed by Trustus company members Robin Gottlieb and Katie Leitner, features a small cast of four. The story follows Samantha Brown, an 18-year-old girl looking back on her senior year of high school. She reflects on her relationships and a tragic accident in which she lost her best friend. The entirety of the cast is making their debut at Trustus, and two of the cast members, Lily Smith and Charlie Grant, are current USC students.
Smith, a second-year musical theater and public relations student, plays the lead role of Samantha. She heard about the show last summer through Michelle Haché, an instructor of musical theater at USC. Although she was unfamilar with "The Mad Ones" beforehand, she jumped at the opportunity to learn everything about it to prepare for her audition.
“I basically memorized the soundtrack and read the script like four times because I was so excited about it and so invested in it,” Smith said.
Although Smith has a background in musical theater, this is her first show with a professional theater. Although it was a bit nerve-wracking at first, she said that the Trustus company was welcoming and provided all the newcomers with space to grow as performers. The show is told entirely from Samantha's point of view as she relives a traumatic time in her life, giving Smith the chance to play a very complex character.
“Honestly, I don't think I've ever had this much fun with a character in my life,” Smith said.
Grant, a second-year neuroscience student, has always had a love of theater, but he hasn’t been involved in any production in Columbia before "The Mad Ones." He decided he wanted to get involved in the theater scene, and the large open call auditions Trustus held last June seemed like a perfect way to audition for as many shows as he could at once. He was cast as Adam, Samantha’s boyfriend, who tries to support her throughout the show.
“I kind of have what's called a 'princess track,' which is where I'm not in too, too many numbers, but when I am there, I'm a large part,” Grant said. "I help her get over the tragedy that happens in her senior year, or at least attempt to."
According to Grant, the biggest difference between "The Mad Ones" and previous productions he’s worked on is the level of collaboration that Trustus offered. When he first met with the directors, they asked for his input on his character, as opposed to previous shows he’s done, where he felt like the director was dictating everything about his character. For this show, Grant has had more freedom to shape his character.
The show also provides opportunities for students to work behind the scenes. Gracie Auld, a third-year mass communications student, is a part of the backstage crew. Although Auld usually performs on stage as an actor, she recently worked as an intern for Trustus and is now taking on a behind-the-scenes role. She found that her experience working backstage has given her more perspective as an actor and helped her realize that she wants to work as an arts manager, arts administrator or director in the future.
“I think it's really important, when you're on stage, to also experience being backstage and doing all the different jobs that theater requires because there's so many other things rather than just being on stage that are equally as important to help the production run,” Auld said. “It's still just as rewarding.”
All three students are looking forward to actually running the show in front of an audience. They have spent time splitting energy between school and this show, and are excited to see it pay off. This show has provided them an opportunity to introduce themselves as artists. For Smith, it’s surreal, but exciting.
"We've just put so much into it," Smith said. "I feel like, above all, I'm just a nerd. This is what I love to do, and I'm just excited that I get to do it."
The Mad Ones runs at Trustus Theater from Feb. 24 to March 18. There is a school night performance on March 2, where students can get tickets for $20. All tickets can be purchased on the Trustus website.