The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

“What, like it’s hard?” — First Year Players prepares to stun with “Legally Blonde”

The cast and crew gear up for the high energy show while building close-knit bonds

Rehearsals span all disciplines, from choreography to vocals to scene work.
Rehearsals span all disciplines, from choreography to vocals to scene work.

As many theater lovers on Grounds may know, First Year Players has remained one of the University’s most prominent drama organizations for decades. This year, the entirely student-run Contracted Independent Organization will put on the beloved musical “Legally Blonde,” continuing its tradition of giving first years and new transfer students the chance to perform.

FYP puts on a different musical production each semester in the Student Activities Building. While first years and transfer students exclusively appear onstage, upperclassmen take charge in putting the show together — assuming roles like directing, producing, installing lights and playing music in the pit. 

This semester’s show, “Legally Blonde,” is based on the 2001 film of the same name. The musical follows an ambitious Elle Woods on her journey to Harvard Law School. She battles stereotypes from professors and fellow classmates, but her intelligence and determination teaches them the ultimate lesson — that being yourself never goes out of style.

The musical scales up the energy of the movie with flashy lights, a greek chorus of Delta Nu sorority girls and even a cheery flash mob in place of Elle’s Harvard University video essay. The cast features both a large ensemble and many named roles, including eccentric hair stylist Paulette Buonufonte and ruthless Professor Callahan. 

The larger-than-life nature of such a show needs a strong directorial team to live up to this tall task. This semester, Lauren Swain, director and fourth-year College student, has answered the call — she oversees all artistic elements, from the vocals to blocking to choreography. Putting together these complicated moving parts is no small feat, and luckily, Swain has a team of talented vocal directors, choreographers and assistant directors on her artistic staff — also known as a-staff — to collaboratively assemble the show. 

“Fortunately, for me, I have a-staffers who are very experienced,” Swain said. “They love what they do … We're just creating something that we can all really be proud of, and it's been a lot of fun seeing their artistic vision grow.”

Caroline Jareb, producer and third-year College student — with the help of FYP’s production staff — oversees the logistical side of the show, making sure everything is prepared by opening night. This process includes securing donations, reserving performance and rehearsal spaces and promoting the show across Grounds. FYP’s administrative tasks are collaborative efforts — Jareb says she is constantly checking in with other members of the production staff to troubleshoot as they run into bumps in the road. 

“We have weekly meetings, constantly discussing and getting feedback from the organization and production staff,” Jareb said. “[Problems along the way] get easily smoothed out with all the people working on the show.”

The organization’s grueling rehearsal schedule enables them to put on quality performances. Swain and her a-staff held auditions in late January and scheduled rehearsals five nights a week until their show week. Their work will culminate in four performances in April. 

Rehearsals span all disciplines, from choreography to vocals to scene work. These tailored rehearsals are also a collaborative process amongst the cast, who must then put all of these elements together.

“We rehearse Sundays through Thursdays … and every week we come up with a schedule based on what we still need to learn and what we need to review,” Swain said. “This is a very involved show, so we have a lot of different groups coming together. Everybody in the cast gets to mingle with everybody else at some point in the show.”

Along with the cast, artistic staff and production staff, First Year Players also includes a large technical staff. These talented individuals imagine, organize and assemble the technical elements of the show, from lights and sound to costumes and props. Their involvement is heaviest during tech week — the last full week before the show in which members of FYP assemble the set and make sure the SAB is show-ready. 

Another sect of FYP is the pit orchestra, which features students of all years who play a variety of instruments. The pit not only enhances each show by providing live music, but also provides a space for members to practice their instrument and meet other musicians. 

First-year College student Caroline Shoaf, who stars as Elle Woods, expressed her anticipation of incorporating more technical elements into their rehearsals in the coming weeks, as the cast and crew do not gain access to the SAB until right before the run of the show. 

“We always rehearse in random classrooms,” Shoaf said. “We don't have a set that we can practice with until tech week, basically, so I'm excited to see all the props and costumes all come together.”

Though the show process is strenuous, Swain emphasizes the importance of FYP as a safe space for first years and new transfers creatively and socially, which is the central goal of the program. 

“I wanted to create an environment where so many different people with so many different talents could come together to create something that we could all enjoy, which I think has turned out pretty well in this process so far,” Swain said. 

For the upperclassmen, these invaluable friendships continue even past their time as “casties” — a term of endearment for the actors in the show — which is why so many of them choose to assume staff roles. According to Jareb, they strive to pass on these sentiments to future generations. 

“I think what keeps people in the organization is how great our community is, and how easy it is to make lifelong friends from it,” Jareb said. “When you make those friends, it's exciting to think about being able to create the same environment and process for future first years, just  because I had such a great time as a castie.”

As a current first year, Shoaf also said she appreciates the guiding role of the upperclassmen. 

“All of the older kids really encouraged everyone to do it again [because] you totally get closer with everyone second semester,” Shoaf said. “They were definitely right. I loved everyone last semester and made good friends, but this semester, they're becoming my closest friends.”

Swain feels strongly about the messaging of “Legally Blonde” as the show choice, which she believes reflects her own time in FYP. 

“There's just always a place for everybody in [the show],” Swain said. “We always say FYP stands for ‘Find Your Place’ ... [I] found my people sort of like how Elle Woods does it in the show.”

“Legally Blonde” will run April 18-21 in the Student Activities Building. Tickets will be available on the organization’s website in the coming weeks. 


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.