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Students and visiting artists find experience and enjoyment “working 9 to 5”

Adapted from the 1980 film and set to the music of Dolly Parton, Tantrum Theater’s upcoming production of “9 to 5 the Musical” tells the story of three working women seeking revenge on their misogynistic boss. Opening March 1 at OHIO’s Forum Theater, the story is inspired by the feminist movement of the 70s and aims to enlighten audiences through real life experiences and a larger-than-life theatrical world.  

The villain of this world is Franklin Hart, portrayed by third-year MFA acting student, Wade Elkins. Hart is the sleazy, arrogant boss of the company - a role Elkins is not accustomed to portraying.  

“In the past, that’s never really been a role people have considered me for,” Elkins said. “I tend to play more bright and cheerful people.”  

Elkins described Hart as a funny character, but an unredeemable antagonist nevertheless. The actor said he has enjoyed “finding ways into this nasty character while still being funny,” which involves drawing motivations from within the character and from real life examples.  

Hart exemplifies powerful men at a time when they weren’t held accountable and is characterized by his frequent harassment of women. According to Devin Franklin, a second-year MFA directing student and assistant director of “9 to 5,” Hart’s character provides a platform to “highlight the absurdity of misogyny and sexism, and how ridiculous it is as a system.”    

Franklin has enjoyed the educational setting of the professional production, where he feels encouraged to create his best work.  

“My favorite aspect as a student, and also working with other students, is feeling that our creativity is being challenged in ways we can stretch,” Franklin said.  

One of the show's stage managers, OHIO alum Miranda Korieth, also enjoys the education process of the show.  

“I find it to be rewarding to help teach the OHIO theater students, specifically the stage management students,” she said.  

While Korieth has returned to her college town for “9 to 5,” some members of the production team find themselves in Athens with less familiarity. The show's director and choreographer, Shanna VanDerwerker, is based out of Chicago and looks forward to bringingthe production to the OHIO stage.  

Shanna Vanderwerker
Director and choreographer Shanna Vanderwerker works with the company of "9 to 5."

“I think this is a really amazing environment, it’s very open, creative and supportive. I think it’s really exciting to be able to tell the story here,” VanDerwerker said.  

Affirming Franklin’s respect for how student creativity is supported within the show, VanDerwerker believes in the collaboration process among the entire company.  

“I’m not the kind of person that comes in and says it has to be this way and only this way,” she said. “There are 20 plus bodies in this production, and they all have beautiful things to offer.”  

One of those production members is Abby Golden, a senior BFA Musical Theater student who portrays the introverted Judy Bernly. Golden is grateful to the guest artists for their help in encouraging students, and for the way they approach their craft.   

“The way (VanDerwerker) is using choreography and the language of the music is so brilliant and helps everything feel so grounded,” Golden said. “I’ve been really interested in watching how she’s creating this whole entire world, specifically focused on my character's headspace.”   

Golden has enjoyed embracing the absurdity and outrageous aspects of the show, as well as balancing the real-life stories the show tells.  

“We have a wonderful dramaturg who really helped guide us on that journey of finding out…what it was really like for these women, because it is very much based on a true story, even though it is so out there and imaginative,” she said. “It’s really fun to be able to go on that self-empowering journey every single night.”  

9 to 5 Golden
Grace Larger (left) as Violet Newstead and Abby Golden (right) as Judy Bernley share laughs during rehearsals for "9 to 5."

This theme of self-empowerment is part of what brought Franklin to the production, both as he aims to surround himself with diverse creative projects and as he sought productions that would spread a message he supports.  

“It’s incredibly current and important that women's issues don’t get sidelined,” he said. “I think something like this can help us…look at the history of what women used to go through and how they were able to facilitate change on their own terms, and maybe see if we can pull from there to see what we can do now.”  

Elkins believes the message of the show is still prevalent within many aspects of American society and seeing it will benefit any prospective audience member.   

“I think it is kind of cathartic for women to go see a show like this,” he said. “For men, it’s funny and it’s a comedy, so it gets you in that way, but then it also makes men think about how they treat the women in their lives.”  

VanDerwerker believes the show contains an important narrative everyone could learn from, but it holds a special influence for a certain audience.  

“I think it’s extra important for the next generations to know that they’re able to have the fights that they fight because of these women that started this movement,” she said.  

Such a powerful message comes with its own challenges, let alone the difficulties that come with staging a production at this caliber. According to VanDerwerker, Tantrum Theater has yet to host a show of this size.   

“For stage management, there is a lot more for our team to track and organize than for a straight play,” Korieth said. 

“Everyone has handled it very gracefully,” VanDerwerker said. “It's been really lovely to see how people handle the challenges rather than letting themselves get discouraged.” 

As for her favorite part of the process, Korieth enjoys “seeing the show slowly come to its final design/look.”

Franklin credits the excitement of the final product to the designers and technicians who have “created such a vibrant world to live in and have a peek in.”  

“I hope (audiences) leave feeling happy for two hours,” VanDerwerker said. “Their heart is singing, their feet are tapping, and through all of that they’re getting inspired by this idea of taking control of what you can and making the choice to change the circumstances.”  

Performances will be held in the Forum Theater in the Radio Television Building at 8 p.m. on Feb. 29 (preview), March 1-2, 7-8, with a 2 p.m. matinee March 9. Talkbacks will follow the performances on March 2 and 7. Tickets are available at Free student rush tickets are available prior to curtain time for any show that is not sold out, and discounted tickets are also available for student presale online.  

February 27, 2024
Sophia Rooksberry, HTC ‘26