All of Monmouth College’s theatre students get to perform “on Broadway,” because of its address – the street that borders the south end of campus and hosts the Wells Theater shares its name with the iconic home of New York City’s theater district.
Two students, Andrew Cliffel ’23 of Lakewood, Ohio, and Gabriela Madu ’23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica, will be on the actual Broadway this summer, taking part in one of four week-long “Broadway Intensives” hosted this year by the Open Jar Institute, Broadway’s premier actor training program.
Under the direction of director/choreographer Jeff Whiting, students participate in high-intensity workshops in acting, singing, dance and audition techniques, all taught by Broadway professionals. As a bonus, participants also get seats for three Broadway productions.
There are two sessions this summer for college students and two sessions for high school students. Open Jar’s teaching artists come from a rotating list, and one of the teachers Madu will work with is Stacia Fernandez, who spent part of her childhood in Monmouth and is the daughter of the late communication professor Tom Fernandez.
The Open Jar opportunity came about because of Cliffel and Madu’s participation in a regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival earlier this year. Madu placed second in the musical theater competition and was a semifinalist in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship auditions. Monmouth College has participated in the festival since 1995, but no student has previously placed as high as Madu.
Cliffel was the first to hear from Open Jar and wasn’t sure what it meant until Madu told him.
“I thought it was just a general email – something not for just me – probably everyone got one,” said Cliffel. “I showed it to Gabi, and she started screaming. She said, ‘This is the whole point of the (theatre festival) competition – to get one of these invitations.'”
“I told him, ‘This is lit. This is good news,'” said Madu.
I said, ‘Then please tell me you got one, too,'” said Cliffel. “‘I’m not going to New York without you.'”
Madu got her invitation a few days later.
As thrilling as those emails were, there was even more excitement to come.
Neither student knew how they’d raise the approximately $4,000 per person for their week on Broadway. They were both advised that they’d received small scholarships to attend, but they still needed more funds. A GoFundMe campaign was started on campus to help them, but another solution appeared.
“On a whim, I shot President Wyatt an email,” said Madu. “I spent a long time on it, crafting it so I said things just right. A few days later, Drew and I were at an all-day tech event for (the College production) The Spoon River Project, and we were just getting ready to go on our lunch break. I got a text from Drew, which was weird because I’d just seen him like two seconds ago. It was to tell me that we just received an email from President Wyatt with the subject line ‘Pack your bags!'”
Wyatt had found a trustee who was not only willing to help but was covering the entire $8,000 cost for them. Madu and Cliffel’s New York City dream was going to come true after all.
“I want it to be a wake-up call for me,” said Madu. “Here at Monmouth, we really get to try whatever we want, and it’s a small enough school that we usually get the role or the position we want. But I don’t want to get complacent. I want to know what it is that I need to be striving for – to work for one week with all these other talented performers and see where I stand.”
“The opportunity to get immediate feedback from someone working in the city – it’s the best information you can have,” said Cliffel, who hopes the stage is in his post-Monmouth future. “I definitely want to get into performance. I might go to grad school, eventually, but I definitely want to try acting professionally in some capacity.”
The “Broadway Intensive” experience will finish a busy theatre-themed summer for Madu, who also has a two-month internship at the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company. Cliffel may be working in Ohio this summer, possibly on a production of “Spring Awakening”, due to one of the actors leaving the show.