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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

WATCH: Student production of ‘South Park’ movie premieres in Whalen

Sophomore Jeremy Werner had a vision. He has spent the last eight years wondering what a stage show adaptation of the “South Park” movie would be like. And on Oct. 28 and 29, Werner finally got his answer after over a half a year of writing, composing, casting and directing.

The film “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” was released in June 1999, less than two years after the show’s initial airdate. It received positive reviews from critics and became the highest-grossing R-rated animated comedy until “Sausage Party” in 2016. It was nominated to win an Oscar for Best Original Song, and while “Blame Canada” didn’t win, Robin Williams sang the song at the ceremony.

“South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” received praise from Stephen Sondheim, a famed musical composer, who said he loved the film and called the musical numbers “wonderful.” Despite all the praise and success surrounding the film, the creators of “South Park,” Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have never adapted it for the stage, although it was performed live by theater group See ‘Em On Stage in New Orleans in 2016.

Werner and sophomore Joshua Isaac are two longtime fans of “South Park” who have watched the show for over six years.

“I can’t remember when I first started watching it,” Werner said. “I think it was a little before high school. My brother started watching it, so I did, too, and I fell in love with it. I thought it was really funny.”

For Werner, there was one version of “South Park” in particular that he gravitated towards soon after discovering the show.

“I saw the movie, and it instantly became one of my favorite movies,” Werner said. “When I first saw it, I was in one of my big theater phases. Seeing it … was a musical, I had this first thought like, ‘What if I put this on stage?’ because I wanted to be in it. Ever since then, I’ve always had it in the back on my mind.”

After working on the independent production “Tick Tick Boom directed by thenfreshman Mykai Eastman last year, Werner felt inspired to direct a show of his own. He said that soon after the production, Isaac asked him if he ever thought the “South Park” movie could work on stage.

Werner said the process started in Spring 2017, but work began in earnest over the summer. Isaac adapted the script to work as a stage show, and Werner composed the songs for a full pit orchestra based off the vocal and piano scores available online.

Werner has an extensive music and theater background. However, Werner and Isaac had zero experience directing their own show. To help remedy this, they brought on Jaime Rockafellow, sophomore theater studies major, as stage manager.

Rockafellow was the stage manager for a play featured in a New York City festival called FreshPlay Festival run by the MCC Youth Theater Company this summer. She also co-produced and co-directed a stage adaptation of the movie “Clue” her senior year of high school.

Even so, Werner said he felt he was up against a wall. Werner and company only had two months to put on a full two-hour show. Werner spent around $400 on sound equipment, props and costumes.

“I put a lot into this production, which as a director, isn’t in the contract,” Werner said. “It did a lot to cause me to be super stressed out.”

On top of being director, Werner also became the de facto music director. This involved composing the music as well as assembling a full pit orchestra to perform for the show.

Werner said juggling these jobs caused other issues. Junior Kelsey Beyer, the pit orchestra conductor, asked backstage during intermission if the pit sounded good. They did. However, Beyer was nervous for one big reason: She had only been approached three weeks before the show premiered.

“I didn’t get the music until the Tuesday before fall break,” she said. “I never had a rehearsal on my own with the pit. We only had five rehearsals. They were stressful. As of yesterday, I didn’t think this was going to come together.”

There were 19 actors in total of the 22 who had auditioned. Senior Mia Fairman said she wanted to be in the show because of the source material and the character of Sheila Broflovski.

“I really like musicals that are non-conventional,” Fairman said. “The vocals. I’m a belter. And I’m a mom-friend.”

On opening night, Werner walked onstage in a full suit. He told the audience how much the show meant to him and how he hoped they would enjoy it. Soon after he exited, a projector displayed the town of South Park over the stage. For the next two hours, actors in movie-accurate costumes pranced around singing, dancing and swearing.

All the swearing really highlighted Werner’s effort to closely adapt the movie. They even used three separate risers and light tricks to represent the movie’s various cutaway gags and quick scene transitions.

As the show came to a close, Werner got up on stage and gave one last speech to the audience of about 70 people, passing around a top hat and asking for donations. Once the audience left, Rockafellow and Werner were shocked by the amount that people had donated. The hat was full of tens and twenties. Werner declined to disclose how much the show made in donations.

The audience grew the next night, with a crowd of around 90 people.

But Werner’s vision didn’t end with this show. Werner, Rockafellow and Isaac plan to create a production company in the wake of the show called Theatrice Theatrics.

“We want to increase the types of performances here at Ithaca College,” Werner said. “Yeah, we’ve got comedy, but no one here’s done a full show. Yeah, you can go to an open mic and perform music with some friends, but what if we had a full concert for a student band?”

Werner also mentioned he would like to organize a short plays festival made up of original works from the college.

He said he was relieved the show went well.

“I had a vision,” Werner said. “I’ve been thinking of this since I saw the movie, which must’ve been in six or seventh grade. I’ve always been developing a vision for how you would do this. I never knew if I was able to pull it off.”

Aidan Lentz can be reached at alentz1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @alentz98