Spring musical’s unsung heroes


The cast of “My Heart is the Drum” rehearses in E. Turner Stump Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. The production will run on weekends starting Feb. 20 and run until March 1.

Dara Sander

Kent State is the first theatre program to present the new, never-before seen musical “My Heart is the Drum” in the E. Turner Stump Theater from Feb. 20 to March 1. 

The musical tells the story of 16-year-old Efua Kuti who wants to pursue an education outside of her small village in modern-day Ghana. She faces adversity in pursuit of her dream, learning about love and the world along the way.

While there will be much singing, dancing and acting on stage, there are also those important faces involved in bringing this all-new musical to life.

“When you come to see a show at Kent, you see the number of people on stage, it’s probably triple or quadruple the amount who are coming together to create the show,” said Cullen Motak, a senior theatre studies major and stage manager for the show.

The backstage crew is important, but no crew is complete without a leader. That’s where director Terri Kent comes in.

“I’m the one person who has the pulse on everything, and I have to provide the vision that pulls it all together,” said Kent, professor in the School of Theatre and Dance and artistic director of the Porthouse Theatre. 

Kent said she wears many hats and juggles multiple jobs within the play.

“I interpret the play, conceptualize the production,” Kent said. “I work with the set designer to create the world, I work with the costume designer to create the characters by their outward appearance. I work with the lighting designer to illuminate the show both realistically and metaphorically.”

It was exciting for her and the crew that the writers of the musical were very hands on through the whole pre-production process, Kent said. 

The concept and music were created by Phillip Palmer, the script was written by Jennie Redling and lyrics were written by Stacey Luftig.

Palmer, the play’s conceptualist, was an HIV/AIDS volunteer worker and became inspired while he was studying drums in Ghana a few years ago. 

“This is very personal and important to him,” Kent said.

Luftig said the show was a concept Palmer created originally as the composer.

Palmer had written an outline and began working with the music, Luftig said.  At a certain point, he brought on Redling to take his outline and create a full, fleshed-out story, which is when she came on as a lyricist.

Kent and other faculty members traveled to the Festival of New Musicals, presented by The National Alliance of Musical Theatre, which Kent State is a member of. They were able to view different submissions, Joni Koneval, marketing assistant in the School of Theatre and Dance and Porthouse Theatre said.

She said that Kent and the others liked “My Heart is the Drum” and talked with the creators of the musical about bringing it to Kent State. 

Koneval said Kent State’s School of Theatre and Dance received a 2014 Writers Residency Grant from the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. 

During a week in November 2014, the writers came to Kent State to rewrite and further conceptualize the script. It was also the time where the cast interacted with the writers, Kent said. She said she gave the writers the freedom to speak to the cast. 

“Over the course of that week, we mostly tweaked dialogue and a little bit of music as well, based on what we saw,” Palmer said. “It really was helpful in refining some of the new scenes.”

The writers also collaborated with Kent State’s design and prop team.

“We got to meet some of the designers, which was lovely. We were introduced to the basic concepts of costume and set,” Luftig said.

Kent thought it was a great experience to have the actual writers come to Kent State and help out with the whole conceptualizing process.

“They (the writers) can see how it’s being interpreted, and if they don’t like it, then they have the opportunity to write it or shape it in a different way for the future,” Kent said.

The stage manager is another crucial role in any backstage crew. Motak is taking on that role for “My Heart is the Drum” and will lead 40 people.

Motak said he calls himself the “middleman,” who keeps the constant communication between the director and designers clear and smooth.

“I go between Terri (Kent) and our designers to express what she wants in the show and make sure their vision is also seen too,” Motak said.

Besides being a liaison to the director and designers, Motak also is in charge of the flow of the musical.

Motak calls the show, Kent said. He orchestrates every light and sound cue through his headset backstage.

“I’m honored that I get to be the stage manager to put it on its feet and play with it so that’s extremely awesome,” Motak said.

Every person on the crew works together to bring the musical to life. Besides working together, the crew has described themselves as a family.

“I was out of town for auditions and when I came back everybody hugged me, and I hugged everybody. I missed my family, that’s how I feel about them,” Kent said. “This is really an extraordinary group of people. I so look forward to going to rehearsal every night.”

Not all of the crew is part of the School of Theatre and Dance. Some non-theatre majors just want to be a part of the musical.

“It’s different because probably around 75 percent of the students are theatre majors, but there are a couple that are not,” Motak said. “So it’s interesting to welcome them and do the show with them.” 

The warm, inviting, atmosphere was recognized by the writers as well.

“We have had an incredible experience here so far. We are just thrilled with everyone we’re working with,” Palmer said. “The students are fabulous to work with (and) we’re getting a lot of support from the department.”

“My Heart is the Drum” opens Friday, Feb. 20 and will run through Sunday, March 1 in the E. Turner Stump Theatre, located in the Center for the Performing Arts.

Tickets for “My Heart is the Drum” are available by phone at 330-672-2787, in person at the Performing Arts Box Office located in the Center for the Performing Arts or online, according to the Kent State website. 

All full-time Kent State undergraduates are entitled to a free ticket and are recommended to call or go online to reserve a ticket.

Contact Dara Sander at [email protected].