Student-written musical to debut

“The Swamp,” written by two University students, will premiere Friday in St. Paul.

by Laura Sievert

Andy Lonning sat in the front row of an empty auditorium as a stage full of students dressed as trees finished a song and held their last pose.

“LetâÄôs try that scene again,” he said.

The University of Minnesota music junior stood up in the aisle of the St. Paul Student Center theater, poring over his copy of the script and giving line cues and stage directions to the cast during their first full run-through of the student-written and produced musical, “The Swamp,”
Tuesday night.

Carmen Wood, the other writer and director of the production, spent the majority of her time standing in the wings working out individual kinks as she saw them.

“The Swamp,” a historical fiction story set in the late 1800s, tells the story of Andrew CarnegieâÄôs attempt to put his first steel mill on top of a swamp.

The lead character, Timothy, teams up with the plants, animals and spirits that live there to find a way to save the swamp from becoming a steel mill.

The musical will premiere Friday, Dec. 10 at the St. Paul Student Center theater.

Lonning, who got the idea to write this musical as a way to continue his passion for writing music, enlisted Wood to assist him a year and a half ago.

“We didnâÄôt think [the musical] would actually be put on,” Lonning said. “Everything just kind of worked out with all the resources at the [University].”

The two continued to work on the production as a team, with Lonning handling the music and Wood âÄî a religious studies junior âÄî dealing with the finances and logistics behind the scenes.

As a way of getting funding for their production, Wood and Lonning became an official University student group, aptly named Student Musical, and began applying for grants.

They were awarded $1,980 through a Student Activities Grant and the Coca-Cola Initiative.

The approximate cost of the production, including sets, props, costumes and practice and performance space rental cost approximately $2,300.

Wood and Lonning have paid all the extra costs out of their own pockets.

Due to the tight budget, the cast has been very economical in costume designs. They use mainly accessories such as hats and gloves to establish the characters, a way of saving the money it would take to purchase or make the entire ensemble. For example, the six women who play trees in “The Swamp” dress in black, but carry leaves and branches and wear wreathes in their hair.

This way, the set and costumes only cost between $400 and $500.

The largest cost, Wood said, came from renting the St. Paul space. They have used it for multiple five-hour practices, as well as to accommodate the two performances this weekend.

Cooper Burns, a first year studying math, computer science and chemistry, auditioned for “The Swamp” after seeing a poster advertising the play.

He plays the part of one of the quintessential bad guys in the musical and said it has been “intense” putting a show like this together in only two months.

“We had no clear idea of where it would go,” Burns said. “It has been developing and changing as it goes.”

Mykee Schinderling, another bad guy, said it was “revolutionary” to be in an original production created by University students.

“Kids will like it,” he said. “Everyone will like it, actually.”

The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday night and is free to the public.