Maddie’s Story

Auditions for THE VERONA PROJECT occurred sometime in February.  Then the callback list came out. And then callbacks actually took place about a month later—a whole month during which I could stress out practicing guitar (or stress out because I was watching Friends instead of practicing the guitar).

Callbacks happened. The cast list came out. And then: the real wait. This past summer I stayed in Evanston and worked at a restaurant almost every day for hours upon hours… upon hours. I didn’t think it was possible for a human to eat so many tacos and not die of overexposure to Mexican food before I worked there. (It’s actually a great restaurant. It’s called Taco Diablo. I work Monday lunches. Stop by.)

ANYWAY. I was bored. I was doing nothing even remotely artistic, and I was getting antsy for rehearsals to start, but September seemed impossibly far away. So when I got the first email about the Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert I was so excited! The concert was coming up. two weeks away, and I couldn’t wait.

Our rehearsal took place the night before the concert via Skype with Amanda Dehnert, the writer and director of THE VERONA PROJECT. Our second, and final, rehearsal took place the next morning before the concert. Not the most extensive preparation, but we were all pumped and full of good energy before the concert. And it was SO much fun. Backstage we got to meet a lot of really nice, talented people who represented shows as diverse as WAR HORSEand KINKY BOOTS. Side-note: I’m obsessed with WAR HORSE, and especially the puppetry (in a pretty embarrassingly nerdy way), and I got to meet Joey, the main horse, so yeah, that would have been enough for me. I might have teared up a bit. But then the actual performance was awesome - just awe-some. I generally get really, really nervous for those kinds of gigs, but for some reason I felt totally calm as I walked on stage in front of over 20,000 people. Ok, to be fair, I wasn’t charged with belting out a billion high Fs or whatever amazing thing it was that Lillie did, but still. We sang. We danced a little bit. We conquered? Yeah, we conquered.

And then the wait resumed. But finally, rehearsals started—and by started, I mean we jumped into rehearsals 6 days a week for 8 hours each day. Really, my whole life for about a month was band rehearsals, and it was SO FUN. But we had a couple gigs to break up the days and days spent in the Louis theatre—12 or so people, about 25 instruments.

First, we were invited to perform a set on Deering Field on the Northwestern campus as part of a festival to welcome incoming freshmen called Deering Days. It was our first experience playing to a crowd of strangers since starting rehearsals. And it went really well! More than anything, it was a great way of reminding us that we’re creating something to share with people. It’s easy for me to forget that we’re not just working and reworking the music for ourselves and Amanda sometimes.

The next gig was a smaller affair, for residents of Evanston—we performed a couple songs for Backstage Evanston in the Barber Theater, but it was a also a great experience because any practice in front of a crowd is good practice. Seriously, it really is so different jamming out in front of people than being in the on the Louis stage by ourselves.

Now we’re about to enter our final weekend of performances.  THE VERONA PROJECT truly is something beautiful, and we’ve all worked really, really hard on it. Because it’s a new work and we’ve been lucky enough to not only be rehearsing but also creating it, there’s a special kind of joy and love in the room. And I think audiences will feel that when they see it. So get your tickets for our last weekend!



Working together as a cast, as friends, as a band

A wonderful Wildcat said to me last year, “Everyone here has their own path and needs to find it. Don’t compare yours to anyone else’s. It’s your own. And it will work out in its own way. I promise.”

It was hard advice to believe after months of feeling really lost, confused, and rejected.  The first day of Wildcat Welcome I had felt immediately ready to jump into the incredible theater program I had heard so much about.  I found out quickly, though, that it takes time—different amounts for everyone.  After a few months, I realized I needed to stop focusing on the parts I didn’t get, and start concentrating on getting practice auditioning for everything I was able to.

I tried out for the Verona Project with a guitar in hand.  I figured I had ruined my chances after making a horrible joke paralleling my nerves to Cal “Shakes” and then being asked to put down my guitar and play drum kit (which I tentatively walked up to, shook my hair a little, banged blindly around, and squeaked “yeah, rock on!…”).

It definitely took me by surprise when I saw my name on the callback list.  I was far from expecting the part, and instead saw the callbacks as an opportunity to prove to myself what I was capable of if I really concentrated.  So, with the help of the incredible Josh Horvath and our “Drummer Camp” that he held every Sunday for those of us called back for the part, I began to learn a very fun new instrument (especially fun for my parents trying to sleep when I practiced at home over Spring Break).

I saw I’d been cast while I was sitting amidst a group of strangers who knew little about Northwestern Theater and consequently looked quite surprised when I shot up and began to dance around.  I just felt so incredibly lucky that Amanda had taken a chance on me. I couldn’t wait to get started.

I walked into the rehearsal room a few weeks ago intimidated, excited, and still “Cal Shaking in my boots” about being the weird freshman who was very randomly cast in such a wonderful production.

But I was immediately overwhelmed by the kindness and openness and welcoming atmosphere the room had for me.  After a week I felt like I’d known my cast, my instrument, the story and the characters, for my whole life.  I can’t imagine not feeling worthy in a room where everyone’s opinions are heard and valued.  We work together as a cast, as friends, as a band (we’re a band; it’s pretty cool) to bring a story to life that I think we all have come to see is so absolutely important to tell.

I have no idea what will happen to me at Northwestern after Verona, or even what this show will grow into by next week.  But I do know that I’m beginning to find my own path.  And I’ve been reassured that all rejection, all mistakes, all failure, is opportunity to learn and to grow.  And no matter what I’m accepted into or what parts I play, I’m now wholly aware of how loving the Northwestern community is and how supportive it is of hard work and passion.  Things that I’ve learned are much more important than smaller details like how early on you get cast.  

“We lose, we love, we live, we learn.”

Michelle Schechter


From writing Agendas to Rockin’ Out: Shpiz’s Verona Experience

My VERONA journey started in January of this year, when I decided to take a class offered by the Theatre department in conjunction with Broadway in Chicago and the American Music Theatre Project. The class was essentially a marketing practicum wherein we were all assigned different roles on the marketing team for a show that was slated to be produced in fall 2012. When my professors announced that we would be doing writer-director (and Northwestern professor)’s original show THE VERONA PROJECT, I was immediately stoked. I’d heard a lot about the show from a friend and Northwestern alum who was in the cast of the original production at California Shakespeare Theatre last summer, and it sounded like an incredible project to be a part of.

Needless to say, the process did not disappoint. Right off the bat I became intoxicated by THE VERONA PROJECT. Coming from a strong marketing background as well as being the son of two live music junkies, working on this show was like being a very small child in a very large candy shop.  I came into the class as the Account Manager for the project, coordinating with and managing a team of five other marketing team members.  I was immediately drawn to the live concert feel that the show emulates, throwing ideas around with the incredibly smart and talented marketing team I was blessed with; ideas that would help us market this show to theater-goers and concert lovers alike. It was a challenge, but a thrilling one at that.

Halfway through the class, auditions for the show began and the prospect of having a full cast and team for this show that up until then had been a bunch of thoughts and ideas in a room in downtown Chicago became a reality. As the audition date approached, I started to consider auditioning myself. It had been a long time since I’d referred to myself as a performer (I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since my seventh grade rendition of Lazar Wolf the butcher in “Fiddler On The Roof” at Jewish Summer Camp), but the prospect of being able to be a part of a band again, while also having one final theatrical, performative experience before I graduated became really enticing.

So I auditioned for the show—I sang a song, fiddled around on my bass for a few minutes, and met Amanda Dehnert, the director and writer of the show. Later that week, I received a call from Heather (the producer of the show as well as my teacher and mentor throughout the whole production process) saying that I had been offered to play the bass in the show in the role of “Speed”. Suddenly, something that had been an almost funny “what if” scenario became my life for the next six months.

Three months later - after two academic quarters and a summer of marketing booklets, agendas, budgets and plans tailored to exciting the public about a show that is so hard to explain, but so incredibly captivating when you understand it - I am sitting in the rehearsal room with my seven-year-old bass “Juanita” and a room full of actor/musician/artist/crazy-wonderful people, making the show happen from a totally different angle. Being a part of the creative process has given me a totally different perspective on what this show really is and what it can mean for our audience. This is truly a show the likes of which I have never ever encountered before. It’s a concert, a classic play, a fairy-tale, and a big slice of nostalgia all wrapped up into one, giant, beautiful, production. 

Yes it has a script and yes there is music in the script, but this is by no means a conventional rock musical. It’s a band who decided to tell a story in their way. It’s a group of friends, of young adults, who are grappling with questions of identity, desire, and responsibility (sound familiar?)

It’s really a journey, much like the crazy ones we’ve all taken to get to where we are today, and I truly can’t wait to share that journey with an audience filled with people. It’s been such an honor and a privilege to have worked on this show from multiple perspectives, and I can’t wait to see what VERONA has in store for me next. See you all at the show!




The Verona Project at the Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert

As the opening of THE VERONA PROJECT gets closer and closer, we’re trying to really make sure that everyone in the Chicagoland knows about us. This past weekend, Broadway in Chicago honored us with a slot in their annual concert Summer concert with ten other INCREDIBLE Chicago shows. Though the show is usually a part of Taste of Chicago, Broadway in Chicago hosted the concert themselves at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Walking up to the stage on Monday morning felt like quite the fete.


But before we could make it to the stage, we had to rehearse. We also had to get two more actors to help us out, since the entire Northwestern cast isn’t here over the Summer. The original San Francisco Valentine, and NU alum, Nate Trinrud just happened to be in Chicago for the weekend (a true miracle) and graciously accepted the offer for a reprise. The incredibly talented Mallory Moser, rising Musical Theater Senior at Northwestern, also agreed to lend us her vocals for the concert. With only two rehearsals scheduled before the concert, the team had planned meticulously for the time to be extremely effective. Nevertheless, life is always something like live theater - and anything is bound to go wrong at any moment. Our director, Amanda Dehnert, has been working New York and was planning on flying into Chicago for rehearsals on Sunday and Monday. That did not happen. A series of unfortunate events led to two planned flights leaving without Amanda Dehnert. 


This meant that we had to rehearse without our director… BUT WAIT. TECHNOLOGY. WE LIVE IN 2012! Yes, thanks to some sort of video technology (no, not Skype) - our cast sat in front of a computer and learned some songs. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture: 




The cast worked hard and pulled it out because when we rehearsed Monday morning they sounded incredible. So incredible that we decided to do a test run for the musical theater Cherubs at school - THEY LOVED IT. The confidence boost sent us on our way to Pritzker where a soundcheck was waiting for us. As someone who wasn’t sound checking, I got to watch all of the sound checks - it was like a private concert, featuring Cyndi Lauper as the closing act. After the sound check came the real concert and the house was PACKED. I was asked to guard the gate until it was time to open them and the lines were so long. People ran to their seats and excitedly waited. 



Needless to say, The Verona Project stole the show! Ok…I may be biased but I’m pretty sure that the audience was roaring by the end of it. I was really proud of my fellow students. My friends. My friends just performed in front of a packed house of THOUSANDS of people. Thousands of people who loved it. The power of music everyone! My favorite aspect of The Verona Project is the music. Writer/Director Amanda Dehnert has really done great things in the show and I can’t wait to share it with the theater world at large. 



THE VERONA PROJECT at Chicago’s 43rd Annual Pride Parade

    The Verona Project is, first and foremost, a story about love: the love among friends, the love among family, and the love among lovers. That’s why, in the spirit of love, the promotions team took the opportunity to attend Chicago’s 43rd Annual Pride Parade on behalf of The Verona Project. With a generous offer from Broadway in Chicago to be on their float, we ordered shirts with our snazzy logo on them and flyers to hand out so people know about this INCREDIBLE show that Northwestern is presenting in October. Needless to say, the t-shirts didn’t make it long in their full shape before we whipped out the scissors and cut them up into 90-Degree-Gay-Pride-Appropriate shirts. For those who don’t know what that means, here’s a picture:

         See? Writer/Director Amanda Dehnert isn’t the only creative member of the Verona team - the publicity team (and three cast members: Patrick, Maddie, and Lillie) are quite crafty with a pair scissors. With flyers in hand and new-and-improved Verona tanks on our backs, we were so thrilled to be able to throw ourselves - I mean, the show - at the thousands of people crowding the streets of Chicago. I have literally never seen a more excited group of people in my entire life, and they were all definitely ready to see what we had to offer. I think we had just a little bit more fun in the parade than the people who watched it (our dancing and shouting certainly caught the attention of passersby). It was really exciting and inspiring to see how many people come together year after year during this uphill battle for Equal Rights, and we can only hope that all of those people continue to spread the love and come see our show! One of my favorite things about The Verona Project is that it shows people in relationships as just relationships - and not as gay relationships or straight relationships - just people dealing with relationships. It’s a seemingly simple, but truly inspiring message with which we hope to reach a whole lot of people.
Well, that’s all for now! More Verona updates to come in the next weeks, so stay tuned!
Austin James (Director of Promotions)

(Source: justinbarbin.com)