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A Broadway experience: Shield helped with productions, analyzed success of shows

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When Rebecca Shield takes to the stage to direct the Pauper Players production of Les Miserables at Furman early next year, it will be with advice from one of Broadway’s best.

“Keep it as simple as possible,” said Anthony Lyn, who has directed two long-running Broadway plays, Les Miserables and Mary Poppins. “Focus on the acting and the story because that is what moves people.”

Shield ’14, a mathematics-economics major from Williamsburg, Va., was able to rub shoulders with Lyn and other Broadway greats this summer as part of her experience as a summer production associate with Disney Theatrical Group in New York City.  After spending last summer working with a small not-for-profit organization in Manhattan, Ars Nova, networking opened up a rare opportunity for Shield to spend the summer with Disney.

Each morning, Shield got the full New York experience, traveling from her rented dorm space at the Fashion Institute of Technology over to the historic New Amsterdam Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan. Working during the day and often staying for shows at night, she had a full schedule. Yet, it’s an experience that Shield appropriately called “magical.”

Shield started off the summer with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as Disney executives looked into the possibility of a future Broadway edition of The Muppets.

She took a hands-on role in preproduction for Aladdin, which will open on Broadway in 2014. She taped out the stage for fight choreography and loaded in props for rehearsals, mingling with award-winning Disney composer Alan Menken and director Casey Nicolaw, choreographer for Book of Mormon and Spamalot. She was also part of discussions about lighting tests, as they discussed “how do we light a flying carpet?” and “how do we make it look like the carpet is flying?”

Production paperwork was part of Shield’s assignment for The Lion King, as she assisted with visa applications for South Africans joining the show’s cast. The goal is for the show to be an “authentic cultural piece” with authentic language, Shield said.

After that, she organized the original material for Mary Poppins, what Disney calls the show’s “Bibles.” The bulging binders are filled with details about costumes, sound, sets, makeup and hair, so that if the show is revived again in the future, they’ll know exactly what is needed.

The biggest project of the summer was analyzing the success of The Lion King, now Broadway’s highest grossing musical of all time. Can such a success be repeated? Shield said some felt it couldn’t be done.

“We decided to challenge that head-on,” said Shield, who worked on the project with two other summer interns.

The trio set out to find a formula for the next Broadway blockbuster. “Using our liberal arts educations, we were able to look at many different perspectives – historical, artistic, business… It was really fascinating,” Shield said. “I was able to see my Furman education in action as I connected the dots.”

They compared The Lion King with Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, looking for similarities in the musicals and their successes. In the end, they recommended selecting another musical production with a universal story and appeal. They also suggested developing a production based on a well-known movie, such as Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean or the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland.

Shield shared the results of the research with Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Group. While she couldn’t reveal the full details and response to her presentation, she said “it was well received by the company.”

After graduating from Furman, Shield hopes to become a company manager for a national tour of a Broadway show. Down the line, she’s considering a master’s in business administration program to assist her in running a theatre one day.

“I got to be part of an incredible world. This was my dream job,” Shield said. “I loved being part of a company that encourages thinking outside of the box.”

(Broadway image by Shutterstock.com)

 

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