Road Trip Results in Theatre Students Meeting Famous Composer

Five self-motivated William Woods University theatre students recently drove to Ohio to attend a theatre workshop hosted by the composer of such musicals as “Godspell” and “Wicked.”

They considered their 14-hour road trip well worth while, and so did their professor.

“This is an excellent example of William Woods students taking advantage of opportunities to expand their learning beyond the classroom through internships and special workshop opportunities,” Joe Potter, assistant professor of theatre, said.

Attending the workshop were freshmen Seth Hunt of Springfield, Mo.; Natalie Baughman of Kansas City, Mo.; Taryn Watts of Nixa, Mo., and sophomores Cody Olendorff and Bryan Schmiderer, both of Pacific, Mo.

The composer, Stephen Schwartz, has been involved with theatre for nearly 40 years and has won numerous awards, including three Oscars, five Grammys and three Drama Desk Awards.

He wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical “Godspell,” for which he won two Grammys. He collaborated on the scores for the Disney animated features “Pocahontas,” for which he received two Academy Awards and another Grammy, and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” He also provided songs for DreamWorks’ first animated feature, “The Prince of Egypt,” for which he won another Academy Award for the song “When You Believe.”

Most recently, Schwartz wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

The WWU students were surprised to learn that Schwartz is humble, despite his success.

“It’s almost like we forgot he was famous, he related to us so well,” Baughman said.

A total of 136 students attended the workshop, which was put on by the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio. The WWU students were the only group from Missouri.

Schwartz talked with students about his musical theatre experiences and gave them tips about how to improve professionally.

“One of the things I learned is when you sing a sonnet you need to know what the character’s doing at that time so you know how to act naturally to it,” said Olendorff.

Watts said, “I loved watching him critique other singers. Even though I didn’t get to sing for him personally, it helped tremendously listening to his comments about other singers.”

“He inspired me to continue on with my dream of musical theatre,’ Baughman said, and you don’t have to be at this amazing huge performing art school to go somewhere.”

The students were surprised that the things they learned from Schwartz were the same things they learned from Potter in class.

This elicited a chuckle from Potter, who added, “I am psyched and thrilled that the current students in the theatre department are so interested in learning and engaged in the process to learn ways of theatre arts and performing arts.”

The students are expected to make a presentation about their experience at the workshop later on in the semester.