By Jacquelyn Zeman – Managing/News Editor
Open Door musical, a collaboration of the music and theater department at Grand Rapids Community College, opens tonight at Spectrum Theater. The show was written by Walt Lockwood and Jim Schafer, and is directed by Michelle Urbane, Fred Sebulske. In addition to assisting Lockwood with writing the show, Schafer will also be in the musical.
Schafer has worked at GRCC for 28 years in the Television Broadcast Department, and was pulled into writing “Open Door” by Michelle Urbane, theatre manager at GRCC.
“I cannot even tell you what it opens up for me as far as opportunities and a new way to think about writing, and writing for people,” Schafer said. “Being my first ever play, I’ve worked a lot with Walt, and I worked under his wing more or less. He really wrote a good portion of it. I was there for the comedy, and the ideas … the two of us just blended really well.”
Schafer will be playing current GRCC President Steven Ender for the show.
“I play him every year,” Schafer said. “I do a Christmas poem for the whole staff. We do a staff breakfast, and pretty much the year he started, I did an Ender imitation, and that’s what got me the role. It is usually a standup routine … a poem, going through the whole year at the college. The part where I do the Ender impersonation is really small. So every year it just has built up, and people liked it. They thought it was pretty good. It is really the Bill Clinton, honestly, with just a little bit less drawl and that’s Ender.
At first Schafer was asked to help the actor that they would have play Ender, and eventually was just asked to take on the role.
“I never acted before, never sang before. I never even sang karaoke. I don’t do any of that … I keep thinking they are going to pull me off of this and say ‘really thank you for trying’ but so far they seem to think I have done a pretty good job.”
Schafer said he does not plan on doing any other community theater productions after this, but he is not completely closed off to the idea.
“This is a very specialized role, but I will never say never.”
Schafer said his favorite part of the show is the scene where Jill and Arthur Andrews are standing by the Veteran’s Memorial after World War II.
“She (Jill) reads the name Jack, the guy that she kind of falls in love with,” Schafer said. “It is just this really solemn moment in the play, between Walt’s writing on that, and the way they are playing that I just thought, for what it is, it is a really emotional moment, and I love that … I think it is the best event of the 100th so far.”
GRCC’s President Steven Ender said he was looking forward to seeing a colleague play him, as well as the show itself.
“Nervous would not be the right word,” Ender said. “I think I am more intrigued.”
“I have seen him do that impression … Jim does a poem every year at one of our all faculty and staff events, I have seen him portray me, and actually I think he does a fairly good job … I have been impressed with his ability to capture some of my personality.”
Many current GRCC students, alumni, current and past faculty members are a part of the show.
Robbie Ellis, current musical theater major at GRCC said he is excited for the audience to just learn more about the school.
“You are going to have lots of ‘oh, I did not know that’ moments,” Ellis said. “You get to experience GRCC students, GRCC alumni, who I think put on some of the best shows. I am a little biased, but I think it is so true.”
Tracey Walker, GRCC alumni from the class of 1992 talked about getting involved in the entire creative process.
“I have been involved since the very beginning,” Walker said. “I did every single read for the writers when they would have the first draft. Shelley got a group of people together to read it, so the writers could hear it…that was really neat, to see what the writers would take away from it.”
Duane Davis, former music faculty member at GRCC, and music director of the show said he thinks the audience will take away the true growth of the college from the show.
I think the audience will just really see how far this institution has come,” Davis said.
Sammy Publes, a GRCC graduate from the class of 1997 said the time travel aspect of the show is what will keep the audience on the edge of its seat all throughout the show.
“The way you get to travel through time actually makes it much more interesting to listen to about a college,” Publes said. “The way it has been written, the way it has been directed, the way it has been choreographed, actually makes it very exciting. Being a past student actually makes me very happy to see this show and actually go through it.”
Current GRCC student, Solomon Gant, said he felt like being part of this show made him feel like he was a part of something bigger in the world of theater.
“I was not just another person in the cast, these people created it, and they made me feel like I worked on it as well,” Gant said. “Even though I didn’t write anything, but as an actor to have that feeling of that creator wanting me to be a part of their creation, it just made me feel all the more appreciative.”