The Mustard and Cheese Drama Society is beginning plans for their first student-led musical production since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The organization will be putting on a production of “The Lightning Thief,” based on the novel by Rick Riordan, in March 2023. The student members have taken the lead of production planning and have faced challenges budgeting.
Juliana Kilgore, ‘24, is president of the club and one of the production’s student directors. Along with the majority of the club, this is Kilgore’s first time producing a musical to this degree.
“If we have done anything in the past, we’re starting over,” Kilgore said. “Everything we’re doing is from scratch so it’s essentially as if this is the first time we’ve done it.”
Rachel Smith, ‘25, secretary of the club, said the group was encouraged to put on a musical because Lehigh’s theater department typically only produces plays. Kilgore said the department may produce a musical once a year, if that.
Members weren’t the only ones who were excited to put on a musical. When it was announced that “The Lightning Thief” was chosen, Kilgore said some of her friends who weren’t in the club or involved in theater at Lehigh became interested in auditioning, intrigued by the play’s popular character, Percy Jackson.
Along with choosing a popular show to entice student engagement, the club also factored production costs into its selection.
Kilgore said the show’s ability to be imperfect was intentional, with the potential of having minimal sets and costumes, allowing them to preserve their budget. Smith said a group of students are being organized to partake in scenic design elements.
“I think the musical is going to be a big turning point for the club because it will help to distinguish us,” Kilgore said. “It’ll show what we do outside of the (theater) department.”
Smith said the production will take place in the Black Box Theater at Zoellner Arts Center, instead of the Diamond Theater. She said The Black Box serves as a more intimate, yet less scenic performance venue.
Kilgore said the club is having difficulty funding the musical. After reaching out to the Student Senate, they were told they need to spend the budget they were already given in order to receive more money.
“We wouldn’t want to spend our entire budget in hopes that they would give us additional money because that could come to bite us if they don’t,” Kilgore said.
Smith also said their biggest challenge has been funding. They have reached out and received support from other clubs on campus, such as Lehigh After Dark, but will still have to make compromises.
However, Kilgore said Lehigh After Dark would only be able to provide the group with funding post-production after confirming what was needed. She explained this is difficult to manage for a musical production, where funding is needed ahead of time.
She said the club reduced their annual Broadway trips from two to one this year due to this financial burden.
Along with reducing the club’s major events for the new production, the club plans to make the musical entirely student-led with faculty advising.
Treasurer Lauren Schultz, ‘24, is the production stage manager of the musical and its other producer, alongside Kilgore. She has been working with fellow students in production planning.
Schultz said her time has been spent organizing and coordinating the pre-casting side of the show, which includes scenic design, lighting, wardrobe design and other performance-related aspects. She said fellow students will be leading the costume, set, lighting and prop designs.
Although the club has faculty advisors, Schultz said the show is centrally run by students.
It’s a fantastic support network,” she said. “Everybody’s very communicative with each other, both the department and my peers … It’s a lot of back and forth communication, and conversation about where to go next and who to talk to, or what steps need to be taken. It’s been a fantastic experience to work with everybody.”
The theater department and the Mustard and Cheese Drama society are closely linked — they work together to relay information about their events and productions to the student body.
“It’s great to be in the forefront of communication,” Smith said. “We’re basically the main communication between the (theater) department and the student body. So, anything that they want to put out basically goes through us.”
Even though many students in the club are involved with the department, there is no requirement to do so. Students of any major, minor or academic focus can join the club. Schultz, for example, is an industrial engineering major.
Schultz said she was encouraged by department faculty to join the club and finds it to be a fantastic network and a collaborative space.
“It’s a really great place for the community,” Smith said. “I’ve personally met a lot of close friends and a lot of great people through the club.”
Schultz said her experience planning the musical has been her favorite experience with the club so far. It has introduced her to the production side of theater, which she was not exposed to before.
“I think the musical gives us the opportunity to say ‘Hey, here’s something that we did,’” Kilgore said. “We put our blood sweat and tears into (the show) we are putting on with the support of the department. They have told us, ‘We are here to support you, but this is your project and we want it to be your project. We don’t want it to become something that we take over as a department. We want this to be something that you can make that you are proud of. And that is your product.’”