The 2019 BJU Classic Players production of Great Expectations is groundbreaking because lead roles filled by students outnumber those played by faculty and staff. Here, seven student actors share their thoughts on this literal role reversal, balancing rehearsals with school and getting into character.
Krystal Allweil (BJUtoday): Hello! We are gearing up for Great Expectations here at BJU. This is one of the few productions where students outnumber faculty and staff in the cast. And I have Michael Cunningham and Becca Conn who are playing Pip and Estella. What do you guys think about the ratio of students to faculty and staff?
Michael Cunningham (Pip): I think it’s a great thing that it just kind of happened like that. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for the students to get involved and to learn something about acting and theater as a whole. I’d say it’s a great encouragement to anyone who wants to audition. Who knows? You might get in, you know, Rodeheaver.
Allweil: So how did you guys relate to your characters? How do you get in character? I know Estella is this really nasty kind of person, and you don’t seem like that in real life. So, how did you, how did you prepare for that?
Becca Conn (Estella): Well, the funny thing is, the director—I’m actually good friends with him because I’ve had a lot of classes with him, and he has actually typecasted me that way. And typecast isn’t always, you know, you really are that way in real life, but it’s really easy for me to get that type of way. So, yeah, I guess that’s—that’s how.
Allweil: And Michael, how’d you prepare for Pip?
Cunningham: For me, Pip is just a really human character. He has a lot of just, not basic, but common emotions that we all have like feeling out of place, feeling unwanted, and then ultimately his rejection. So, there’s a lot that I can get behind and connect with, and I think that’s one of the bigger parts of acting is figuring out how you and your character are almost exactly alike.
Allweil: Thanks for coming today, guys, and sharing your thoughts. Appreciate it.
Cunningham: No problem.
Allweil: Wilbur, you’re a GA as well as a student and in Great Expectations. How do you balance it all?
Wilbur Mauk (Jaggers): Well, it is very difficult, but I find that work is—I have to go to work and do my work, and I can kind of balance school a little bit with that whenever I go into my job. But whenever I get to rehearsal, I try and leave everything at the door and then just focus on the part that I’m working on at rehearsal, kind of clear my mind and focus on my character.
Allweil: That’s a good idea. I’m sure it’s hard.
Mauk: Yep. Very difficult, but it’s fun. I enjoy it.
Allweil: And David, you’re also a student photographer as well a student and in Great Expectations as well. How do you balance all of your responsibilities?
David Ruiz Guerrero (Wemmick): Well, luckily for me, the student photographer job is not so heavy-based, but, you know, I love everything I do. So, it doesn’t really feel like heavy work. It just feels like, you know, having some fun through the ways. And balancing schoolwork is just something you gotta do sometimes, so I’m just here for the ride. I’m enjoying it, and hopefully, sometime after this I can look back and say I’m glad I did it.
Allweil: So, how did you guys relate to your characters? How do you get in character? Because neither one of you are studying for law. And you’re playing a lawyer; you’re playing a law clerk. You’re not studying prelaw or paralegal. How do you relate to your characters?
Ruiz: Well, for me, I see Wemmick not just as a paralegal. I see him as, he has his own life outside of work, and to me, I really like him because he likes to gossip a lot. And, you know, I like to gossip, too. I’m not saying it’s good or anything, but, you know, I occasionally like to get inside a little bit of the hot gossip in the office and stuff. So, you know, I love just being that kind of person, and, you know, it’s—it’s a funny character. And I love being funny.
Mauk: Right, and I find Jaggers to be the ultimate professional. So, he’s very career-driven, and he tries to deal with the people that he works with with the utmost professionalism. So, you kind of see these characters not as, you’re studying to be a lawyer or they’re a lawyer, but as people, and what are their intentions and goals. And that way you can work through and relate with them. So with Jaggers, he kind of is very blunt with people and, you know, I like to do that some times. I like to be very upfront. So, I kinda find that very similar with him.
Allweil: Thank you, guys, for sharing your thoughts and for taking the time to be here with us today.
Mauk: Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having us.
Allweil: You’re welcome.
Allweil: So, Seth. You play a pretty nasty character. You play Orlick. How do you become this character?
Seth Skaggs (Orlick): Well, he is a pretty violent guy, you know. He does some pretty awful things throughout the entire play. So it’s kinda hard for me to be like, Oh, I identify with this character, you know. But for the most part, I think the character is very insecure about himself at the root cause of it all, and that’s why he acts out with such violence is he feels wronged by the character of Joe who is showing a lot of favoritism toward Michael’s character, Pip. He feels like that favoritism should be aimed more at him. So, he acts out in violence. So, I think in a way, a lot of us can identify with that in the fact that we all kind of feel like we’re very insecure. Everyone’s insecure. Anyone who feels strong, they have insecurities. So, that’s how I think I identify with my character.
Allweil: Really interesting. But, you guys are all students. You have this really heavy workload already just being a student and being juniors. That’s your heaviest year. How do you balance rehearsals with all that homework?
Megan King (Biddy): I think that a lot of it boils down to trying to get it done. I know, especially for actors, we all find it difficult to get homework done while we’re in the show because you’re waiting for your cue, and you’re trying to find out what’s going on on stage. But a lot of it comes down to being able to prioritize. If you find something that you really love, then you’re willing to sacrifice for it. And so, a lot of us are not able to do a lot of things outside of rehearsals and classes because we’re in rehearsals so often. But being able to work hard on school, making getting studies done a priority is well worth it when we get to finally put on the production and hang out with awesome guys like these kind of thing. So, it’s been a lot of fun, and that’s how we—that’s how we roll.
Allweil: So, this is a production where we have more student leads than almost any other production we’ve had in the past at BJU. What are your thoughts on that?
Caleb Gleason (Joe): Well, personally, I take that as a great privilege to have—acting in a fairly big production on Rodeheaver stage. But it also shows the trust that the faculty puts in the students and as well as all the talent that everyone here displays for the show itself.
Allweil: Thank you for coming today and answering my questions and sharing your thoughts. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys perform in Great Expectations. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. We’re looking forward to Great Expectations, and you can get your tickets, too. There’s a link below, and we’ll see you next time.