Nothing Rotten about STC’s Return with “Something Rotten”

Stuyvesant Theater Community’s “Something Rotten” marks the first in=person school theater production since the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Take the Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC), a previous year and a half of virtual performances, and the opportunity for a grand return, and what does one get? “Something Rotten,” their first in-person performance since the COVID-19 pandemic. Performed on October 29 and 30, their work was a rendition of the 2015 Broadway musical “Something Rotten,” a musical comedy about two brothers struggling to write a hit play.

The musical comedy is set in the 1590s where brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom hope to find success through writing a hit play but find themselves stuck in the shadows of famous playwrights of the Renaissance. With the help of Nostradamus, a soothsayer, who foretells the future of the theater, the brothers turn their efforts to writing the world’s very first musical.

This year’s cast consisted of seniors Michael Borczuk and Samuel Espinal Jr. as Nick and Nigel Bottom, respectively; senior and Cast Music Director Elizabeth Stansberry as Bea, Nick’s wife; junior Berry Ongan as narrator Minstrel and soothsayer Nostradamus; senior Cynthia Tan as Portia; sophomore Brandon Phillips as Brother Jeremiah; junior Samantha Farrow as Shylock; sophomore Matthew Monge as Lord Clapham; and senior Ashley Choi as the Master of Justice.

The production team, which consisted of seniors Ella Krechmer, Ava Yap, Jasmine Wang, Katherine Lake, Ava Lu, and Christine Lin, saw the play as the perfect pick to start off the school year. “[It] came in our radar because of the amount of involvement it has in different crews. It was a very music-heavy show; it has a huge band, ensemble, cast, and a lot of interesting technical aspects,” Lake said.

Lu, a Technical Coordinator, added, “It's also a hilarious play that would hopefully make people laugh during such a stressful time of the school year.”

STC felt that the flamboyance and involvement of their selection seemed appropriate in light of numerous virtual productions the year before. “We were virtual for a year and a half, and during this year and a half, we couldn’t really do much compared to in-person,” Lake, also Technical Coordinator, said. “We did Head Over Heels, [last year’s show] virtually, but there were none of the technical aspects that we love in our STC shows: tech couldn’t build the set, art had to paint virtual backgrounds, and it wasn’t the same.”

Throughout it all, the cast enjoyed creating portrayals of their characters and believed it paid off in the final product. “A lot of us interpreted our characters a little bit differently, especially me—I ad-libbed. I added onto a lot of my lines to make it funnier, and I think that's part of the reason why most people I talked to thought it was a really funny character,” Ongan said. “What made it really good was that we added our own flair to the characters.”

Cast members were also able to form personal connections and attachments to their characters. “Bea has been one of my dream roles since the first time I listened to the “Something Rotten” soundtrack. She's sort of like the first feminist, and spends a lot of time going out and earning money for her family, all while being pregnant,” Stansberry said.

The preparation for the performances was not without its difficulties though; one large one was performing with masks. “I had to belt in a higher register, which was extremely hard especially given that I needed to dance while doing so. That was really, really hard with a mask,” Ongan said. “It was [also] harder to gauge my other actors' expressions and stuff, and we had to act with just our eyes.”

STC also had to abide by COVID-19 regulations, including testing each member before the performances. "We’re trying our best to be back in-person, [but] there are so many new restrictions [and] so many new loops we have to jump through,” Wang said. “We [...] can go maskless for the performance because we all submitted our vaccination forms and [took] a COVID-19 test [...] so we’re doing our utmost to be safe.”

The pandemic also tightened deadlines for both the cast and production crew, though some felt it made the final product all the more rewarding to see. “It took much longer for us to get the rights for a show than normal. Normally we apply in August and are approved by the beginning of September, and this year we didn’t get approval until mid-September,” STC supervisor and biology teacher Marissa Maggio said. “We didn’t get our librettos and our scripts until the beginning of October, so they really only had a couple of weeks with the actual scripts and music, which, if you think about it, makes what they accomplished even more impressive.”

The return of in-person STC also brings with it new faces, many of whom had never performed before. “The biggest problem people don’t think about enough is that people are returning here with no experience at all,” Wang said. “There are plenty of sophomores that have no experience, freshmen with no experience.”

Lu agreed. “This show, in particular, was incredible to see develop because a lot of us struggled in the beginning coming out of quarantine to familiarize ourselves with changes and jumping straight into a show with a tight deadline.”

However, after not being able to convene for a year, Maggio found that the students were much more enthusiastic about the prospect of a new live show. “Everybody followed every single protocol, nobody complained, for the first time ever people were basically on time, all of the time, they stayed until the end,” she said. “Everyone was so happy to be together again that I feel we actually had much greater participation and rule-following than we had in the past.”

Despite the obstacles that came with the first in-person show in over a year, STC enjoyed the turbulent experience as a community. “STC is a great way of showing that there’s a lot more than one way to be talented, especially in a school like Stuy,” Lake said. “Here, we see the grades, we see the AP Calculus, but there [are] other ways to be talented that you can’t see in a classroom. These kids are creative, they have great voices, they can dance, they can construct things out of wood with drills.”

STC also brought close relationships among its actors and members. “They were really crucial to this production and I [they] could not have done this without them,” Ongan said.

STC looks forward to how their community will grow. “It can be really worrying to enter theater as a freshman or a sophomore, especially after such a long period of COVID, and I want them to know that STC is not only just a club but a community,” Wang said. “Everyone ends up so connected that years later we can still look back at those memories and say, ‘I remember this amazing costume’ or ‘I remember this beautiful set’, and it really brings everyone together no matter how different they are.”

For many, “Something Rotten” marked the beginning of an exciting return to life before the pandemic. “They’re all so excited, so passionate, and so talented, and I feel safe putting the future of STC in these people’s hands,” Wang said. ”I'm very excited to see where STC will go from here on out.”