It is common knowledge amongst the theatre community that a cast and crew become close when producing a show, often referring to the cast and crew as their “theatre family”. These are the people you spend all your free time with for two months. However, for the cast and crew of Oklahoma! they are quite literally family. In this production of roughly forty people there are only seven members who do not have at least one relative in the show. The rest of the cast and crew is made up of nine families ranging from two to five members. I was recently able to sit down with some of these families to discuss the ins and outs of working with loved ones.
I was invited to the home of the Van Luvender family headed by veteran actor Mark, a software developer, and wife and first time performer, Carolina who is a home health aide. The Van Luvenders are the largest family in this production of Oklahoma! and they have three children. Allen 18, a freshmen at Illinois State University, runs crew for the show while Michael 16, a junior at MVCTC, and Paige 12, a seventh grader at Northmont Middle School, lend their voices to the chorus. The Van Luvenders have not always been a theatre family but when Allen decided to trade in his soccer cleats for a chance to audition for the school musical, one by one the rest of the family dove into the theatre world and they’ve never looked back. Although some members of the family have previously worked together, this is the first time that all five have been involved in the same production. When asked what the best part of the whole family being involved is Allen jokingly replied “I know I’ll always have a ride to the theatre!”, but they really have cherished the opportunity to have this shared experience before Allan leaves for college in the fall. The family credits Oklahoma! with bringing them closer together by giving them a deeper understanding of what each other does in the theatre. However, it has not been easy to have the whole clan involved. Both Mark and Carolina work full time and it is a rush to get themselves and their three children fed and ready to head to the theatre for their seven o’clock call time. Mark has noticed the biggest difference, going from only needing to worry about himself to now having four other people and their props and costumes to keep track of. Through the added stress and pressure that goes along with having the entire family along for the ride the Van Luvenders agree that it’s definitely worth it to have your own cheering section in the best of times and a support system when mistakes happen.
The “Pedrotti Dream Team” is another family in the cast of Oklahoma! Siblings Elizabeth 22, Thomas 18, and Lily 16 from New Lebanon are only together during the summer with the elder two at college during the academic year. The Pedrotti’s spend all of their time together both on and off stage, in fact the reason Elizabeth audition for the show was to spend time with her siblings. Each member of the Dream Team brings their own unique skill set with a wide variety of talent. Lily has studied composition and enjoys composing on the piano, Elizabeth in fluent in Italian, and Thomas is active in politics and was very happy to share with me his very accurate impression of a goat. With a wide range of shared interests from Ping-Pong to piano this is a family that enjoys spending time together and makes it a point to create bonding experiences.
Other families in the cast and crew include the Robbins, Newhart, Impson, Garrett, Gabert, Fortner, and Monnig families. For the Robbins “theatre time is family time” and they have worked on a variety of shows together. Dad Matt builds sets and works in the tech booth while wife Debbie and daughter Laura lend their talents to the chorus. Laura says that the best part about working with her parents is that she always has someone to go to when she has questions. For the Newharts this is a brand new experience. Mom Amanda, who is the vocal director for the show, has enjoyed having the opportunity to share her love of theatre with daughter Davy who is hitting the stage for the first time as the youngest member in this cast. Director James Nelson has enjoyed the experience of working with so many families stating that rather than directing the individuals he ends up “directing a unit” instead. He also believes that the process has gone smoother because “families are more committed to making it a good experience” because they are there to make memories to last a lifetime.
Whether its spouses, siblings, or the whole darn family working together, the cast of Oklahoma! definitely has a unique dynamic that is bringing smiles to the audience every night.
Until next time, from behind the curtain.