Student musicians take to the stage and the pit beneath it in University Theatre’s Cabaret

Arts NC State’s core belief that the arts are for everyone encourages a diversity of student and community participants in the arts that enriches both the final products and the education that each arts program and department provides to students. This openness contributes to an arts community on campus that strives to be free of silos and provides opportunities for cross-participation and learning in multiple creative fields.

A recent example of how cross-participation deepens the learning experience for Department of Music students involves several applied music students who were selected to participate in University Theatre’s February production of Cabaret. The majority are taking applied voice lessons, including vocal performance minor Riley Stephenson who played Cliff, a leading character in the show. Two — Samer Issa and Chris Suggs — were selected to perform in the pit orchestra.

Issa, Suggs and Stephenson, who is a member of the Singing Statesmen choir, were balancing Cabaret with their other ensemble rehearsals and a full course load. The orchestra members did most of the prep work on their own, learning the pieces prior to getting together with the rest of the band.

“I thought it was going to be a little bit harder [to balance],” said Issa, a first-year exploratory studies student who plays the trombone in the Wind Ensemble. “We’re definitely playing a lot more literature in Wind Ensemble this semester, but to add this on top of it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. I made sure to split up my time and try to work through the show bit by bit. It’s definitely a challenge but I think I prepared successfully.”

Participating in the pit gives student-musicians the chance to stretch their musical talents in a new way, and an additional opportunity to collaborate with professional musicians. Suggs was drawn to Cabaret in particular because he thought the jazz repertoire was a good fit for him as a musician, while also presenting a different type of challenge.

“It’s nice to do different things. It keeps you a little more well-rounded. What I have to play in the big band is totally different from Cabaret, and I think [now I have] pretty much played with everybody on campus,” said Suggs, a senior mechanical engineering major and trumpet performance minor who performs in the Jazz Ensemble I and NC State Jazz Combo. During his time at NC State, he has also participated in the Wind Ensemble, Marching Band and Pep Band, as well as two concerts with the choirs when they performed with a brass ensemble.

Involving music students in the pit orchestra is important to University Theatre’s Interim Director Joshua Reaves, who views the annual production as the students’ musical. He said 100 percent of the cast and crew are made up of students and when it’s show time the staff steps away to let them run it.

“Our primary focus is on the students on and backstage who can’t do a good job if they’re not supported by the music. For them to succeed the pit has to be well-polished,” said Reaves. “Samer and Chris were great. They held their own against seasoned pros and it was a good opportunity for them to connect with professional musicians.”

Visit the Department of Music and University Theatre online to learn more about performance opportunities and how to get involved.