The music theatre program at Elon University has made is recognized as one of the best educations in the country for an aspiring Broadway star. Graduates from the esteemed program have landed roles on national tours and television spots, with roles ranging from “High School Musical” to “State Fair.”
The 2010 graduating class features many talented actors and actresses who will be making their mark around the country in various performances and tours. Three of the graduates will be headed to the national tour of “Spring Awakening.”
Erin Burniston, Courtney Markowitz and Christopher Wood leave Elon for a brief summer before starting rehearsals in September. Performances begin in October, and the shows are booked until May, with a possible four-month extension for more shows. The performers will travel across the country and into Canada, as well as stopping back by North Carolina in March.
“Spring Awakening” tells the story of several teenagers in a repressive German town in the late 19th century. The teens discover their burgeoning sexuality, much to the dismay of their prudish parents and teachers who would rather not talk about the subject. The original play was banned in Germany for more than a century because of its controversial themes.
“Maybe the grandparents can’t see it,” Wood said of the performance.
The characters in the play are all in their mid to late teens, and Elon’s performers will graduate in their early twenties. The age difference between character and actor may help give the characters believability, though.
“It helps that we’re above the age of the characters,” Wood said. “We’ve gone through the experience, but can still tap into the innocence.”
It is also helpful that the three actors will be able to rely on one another for support during the long tour.
“We’re really happy that we have each other,” Burniston said. “If it was just me, I’d be scared. But, for our first big job, we have each other.”
Markowitz agreed and added that, with Elon’s graduates finding success in the theater world, even when moving to New York, they won’t miss friendly faces.
“(The department) is such a close-knit family,” she said. “We won’t be leaving that family, and it will be like that for our whole career.”
Elon has prepared its graduates for life beyond the bricks, particularly in the music theater department. The hectic rehearsal schedule in “the real world” will mirror what the students have done for four years at school. At Elon, on top of daily classes, rehearsals start in the late afternoon and run until nearly the next day, while weekends contain more rehearsals and performances.
“Our days don’t stop,” Markowitz said.
But they all said they enjoyed their Elon experience and the range of opportunities it offered — particularly the ease and convenience of getting around a small campus.
“It won’t be like that in New York,” Wood said.
The actors credit Elon’s program with building their skills as actors far beyond their comfort zones. Wood began his Elon career as a “glorified stage hand” and has portrayed characters from the dramatic (the title character of “Sweeney Todd”) to the comical (Fred Graham in “Kiss Me Kate”).
Burniston has portrayed very different characters as Amy in “Little Women,” a dreamy and innocent character, in contrast with Snookie in “110 in the Shade,” a flighty and flirty type.
Markowitz has played the elderly Madame Giry in “Phantom of the Opera” as well as 19-year-old Jo March in “Little Women.”
“I’ve gotten to do a lot of things I thought I would never do,” Markowitz said. “They all teach us to stretch and adapt.”
Adaptability will come in handy as the trio makes its way to the national touring stage. Wood sings in nearly every song, and Burniston, as a swing, has to memorize five different parts. Markowitz has to bring significant depth and emotion to a character with an abusive past but enough hope for her future.
The future for Wood, Burniston and Markowitz seems bright, as it does for other Elon graduates. “Six people are on national tours right now,” Wood said. “Every single person (in the graduating class) has gotten called in for something.”
They credit their parents for letting them follow their dreams and supporting them in what might have seemed a risky education choice.
“As soon as I got the call, I called my mom,” Markowitz said. “My mom said, ‘Who said theatre majors can’t get jobs'”
Hometown: Fairfax, Va.
High School: Lake Braddock
First realized she wanted to be on stage: When she began dancing at age 3. Also, when watching Disney movies and broadcasts of musicals as well as performing in church plays.
First role: A dancing poppy and Lullaby League member in “The Wizard of Oz” in seventh grade.
“Spring Awakening” role: “Chair of rock” performer and swing. “I sit in the on-stage seating and act like a normal person until I start singing,” Burniston said of being a “chair of rock.” A swing learns multiple parts so they can fill in for any number of people in the event of an emergency.
Hometown: Dublin, Ohio
High School: Dublin Jerome
First realized he wanted to be on stage: After watching his sister perform in theatre.
First role: A rat/child in “The Pied Piper,” age 6.
“Spring Awakening” role: Melchior. “He’s been told ‘no’ his whole life, and he’s tired of it,” Wood said. “He’s so fascinating. He’s causing all this trouble, and you sort of have to connect to him.”
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.
High School: South Fayette
First realized she wanted to be on stage: At a performance of “Sesame Live.” “My parents said, ‘We should put her in dance,'” Markowitz said.
First role: Hometown production of “A Christmas Carol.” Markowitz will be completing the circle by working with “A Christmas Carol” over the summer.
“Spring Awakening” role: Ilse. “She’s one of the group of friends in the villiage, but she gets shunned because she comes from an abusive home,” Markowitz said. “It forces her to grow up a lot faster than the others.”