Elon University’s performing arts department presents the song cycle, “Myths and Hymns” for the black box spring musical from April 26 to April 28.

After learning “Myths and Hymns” would be the spring musical, Elon professor and director Alexandra Joye Warren knew she would have to add some sort of story into the song cycle. Song cycles are a group of individually complete songs designed to be performed in a sequence without having an overarching narrative. 

“It is typically performed as a concert,” Warren said. “What we decided to do, with our time and energy that we had, maybe we could be a little bit ambitious and try to cultivate a story that connects all the songs.”

Warren elaborated saying this practice is known as devised theater — where an ensemble collaborates to create a story. 

“We decided to build a story based on what is in the text of the lyrics, the tone, all the things, the elements of the music of the songs, and so we crafted our own story for this particular show,” Warren said.

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The cast of "Myths and Hymns" performs "There's a Land" on April 23 during a dress rehearsal in Roberts Studio Theatre.

Warren also gave the students the freedom to come up with their own characters based on the concept she had come up with. 

“I knew that I would need to create a kind of a playground basically, if you will, for structure,” Warren said. “The students came up with their characters based on the songs that they were assigned to sing and the themes that came out of that.” 

While professor Warren was able to give the students the freedom to come up with their own characters, Chris Rayis — music director and assistant professor at Elon — made sure the students knew everything they could about the music of the show. 

“This piece is extremely advanced, and extremely difficult to sort of pull apart and rebuild,” Rayis said. “Each of them had to learn musicality in a way that neither of them have been asked to before.”

In addition to the advanced nature of the piece, one of the characteristics of a song cycle is that the entire production is song with no dialogue. Rayis said this also added another challenge to learning this production. 

“Here, each person in this cast needed to become an expert in the show, which is very rare,” Rayis said.

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Sophomore Gabe Tobierre performs "Saturn Returns" on April 23 during a dress rehearsal in Roberts Studio Theatre.

In spite of the challenges in learning the show, junior Aubee Billie said she was excited to have the freedom to create her own character. 

“One of the first things that Warren asked us was, ‘What do you want to bring to the table whenever you step into this room?’” Billie said. “I want to bring my crazy self, so I'm coming into this and I've just been really happy and ready for anything at any turn.” 

Regardless of the excitement, Billie was also nervous to perform in a devised theater piece. 

“It's been difficult, especially with devised theater and I've never been a part of a devised piece,” Billie said. “Being a part of something like this where you have the songs laid out for you, but you don't have the storyline it's like, ‘Wait, but where do we go with this?’” 

In the show, Billie performs the songs “Jesus the Mighty Conqueror” and “There’s A Shout.” She said while she was both nervous and excited to perform in “Myths and Hymns,” she thinks she and her fellow cast members have figured the show out. 

“We finally figured out the layout of how the songs were going to be,” Billie said. “We see the vision, we see how this is going to work, and everything pieced together little bit by little bit.”

Nia Bedard | Elon News Network
Seniors Jacob Atkins and Camille Fundingsland perform "Hero and Leander" on April 23 during a dress rehearsal in Roberts Studio Theatre.

With director Warren having to piece together a structure for the show, she had to put the songs in an order that would create a narrative for the audience to follow. During Warren’s narrative creation she decided that the centerpiece of the show would be “Come to Jesus.”

“I had this sort of crazy sticky note pad of all the song titles and how they might connect,” Warren said. “I put a heart around that song because I knew that everything needed to connect to that,” 

Senior Camille Fundingsland, who performs “Come to Jesus,” said she believed the structure of the songs was also essential to the impact of “Come to Jesus.”

“We have this sequence, ‘Hero and Leander’ into ‘Life is but a Dream’ into ‘Come to Jesus’ and so I think once we had those three songs down, we really worked through them,” Fundingsland said. “That sequence is really important to this whole process.”

With the combination of the structure, the narrative, the music and the character development, junior Kameron Askew said he hopes that audience members will find a light at the end of the tunnel. 

“I think the show is a great reminder of keeping faith,” Askew said. “In life, we go through so many different things, we're given so many different challenges, but I think it's important to remember to stay strong.”

“Myths and Hymns” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on April 26, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on April 27 and at 2 p.m. on April 28 in Roberts Studio Theatre in Scott Studios. Tickets are $15 cash or check at the door or free with an Elon ID and can be reserved on Elon’s ticketing website.