Pauper Players' 'Sweet Charity' will be just huge despite small space

People say size doesn’t matter.

Pauper Players aims to prove it tonight with their musical debut of “Sweet Charity” in the small, dark Union Cabaret.

The entirely student-run organization previously worked in the Historic Playmakers Theatre. Now their productions are staged in the 150-seat black-box space in the basement of the Union.

“Sweet Charity” is the first show of Pauper’s season, which will include three more full-scale musicals, plus a Broadway revue show that is planned to premiere in the Cabaret.

“When I am performing in here I’m always wondering if it’s difficult for the audience to really get into it,” said Olivia Myrick, an executive producer of Pauper who plays Nicki in show. “But when I saw a show for the first time in here, I was blown away. You connect a lot more with it.”

The intimacy of the space plays perfectly into Michael McWaters’s vision for his directorial debut, he said.

The musical documents the romantic ups-and-downs of a naively optimistic dance hall hostess with numerous instrumental dance breaks and complex dance numbers that span acts.

“It allows for a more unique theatrical experience,” McWaters said. “The audience doesn’t feel so detached from the action.”

Given the nature of the small venue, McWaters had to take a careful choreography approach.

The result is a show with many of the dance numbers strategically angled diagonally so both sides of the audience banks can see every dancer.

“The dancing has to be facing both sides of the audience which in many ways goes against dancer instincts,” McWaters said. “We had to rotate everything so that if someone’s mom was there she’d be able to see her child perform.”

The task of staging the play was eased by the marriage of McWater’s role as choreographer and director.

“I’ve been to shows where you can see two creative brains working against each other,” McWaters said. “I think being both choreographer and director helped unify the vision so that everything is coherent.”

While limited space may enhance the audience’s experience, the setting adds a layer of complexity for performers of the dance intensive show, said Alex Herzing, the dance captain of “Sweet Charity”.

“The front row of seats are on the stage where they perform,” Herzing said. “It’s stressful for the dancers. The scrutiny of being so close to the audience — it’s just terrifying.”

Spatial limitations aren’t the only burdens barring on Pauper.

In an attempt to return their performances to the recently reopened Historic Playmakers Theatre, Paupers encountered financial and scheduling conflicts.

“We have such a rich history with Playmakers, Myrick said. “For the twenty-one years Pauper has been in existence, the majority of time was spent performing in Playmakers. Ideally, we would love to get back to that.”

The price of a week in Playmakers is $4,000 compared to $1,300 for the Cabaret. For an organization like Pauper — funded mainly by ticket sales with some funding from student government — the added expense is overwhelming.

“Just to get the rights for ‘Sweet Charity’ is $1,000,” Myrick said. “It’s tough when you have a lot of people that just want to perform.”

Despite the title of their debut show, Pauper is not looking for a handout. Last year the majority of their shows sold out. With six performances from tonight to Tuesday the players said they hope “Sweet Charity” will continue the trend.

“We have to rely on ourselves,” Myrick said. “We sell tickets and do these performances so we can perform the next year. Our goal is to break even.”

Tickets for Sweet Charity are $5 for students and $10 for the general public.

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