By Stephanie Butzer
For a while in middle school, she wanted to be a marine biologist and ride killer whales, or an interior designer like those in the Sims computer game. But those desires didn’t last long. Virginia Claire Mason always knew she was going to be in musical theater.
Mason, a senior BFA music theater major, performed in her first play in the first grade. It was a musical called “Going Buggy.” She was assigned to play Little Miss Muffet, and her job was to chase a classmate dressed as a spider with a tennis racquet.
“I was like, ‘This is fun,’” Mason said. “‘I like chasing boys around with a tennis racquet.’”
Mason continued to participate in theater throughout middle and high school. She did shows with her community children’s theater, the Star Bright Players in Franklin, Tenn.
Mason saw her first Broadway show, “Les Miserables,” when she was in fourth grade. At intermission, she eagerly turned to her mom and asked if the actors and actresses performed for a living. When her mom said yes, Mason knew she wanted to pursue the stage.
She started looking at potential colleges as a freshman in high school. Mason’s audition at Elon University was the first of 12 as she searched for a school that fit her interests. She didn’t know very much about Elon, except that it had a music theater program, so she went into the audition without anxiety.
“I think I went in with the attitude, ‘This is just for fun. It’s just practice,’” Mason said. “I think it made it so I was really laid-back and really was just having fun. It made for all the elements of a good audition — just enjoying it.”
The same weekend she auditioned, Mason sat in the audience at Elon’s fall musical, “Sweeney Todd.”
“I remember looking at this girl on stage,” Mason said. “She was playing Mrs. Lovett. I just thought she was the most phenomenal thing I had ever seen. Her training really showed.”
The more Mason watched the girl perform, the more interested she became in Elon’s music theater program. She couldn’t believe she was not in New York City. The show seemed to be Broadway quality.
After Mason’s acceptance into the music theater program, she befriended the girl, Emily Rice, whom she had seen on stage a year earlier. They had one year of overlap at Elon, and during their time together, the two became best friends. Now, Rice is one of Mason’s bridesmaids for her wedding in June 2013.
Paving a path at Elon
Mason has been active with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and her Bible study group, called Crazy Love, since she was a first-year. She has been with the same group throughout college.
“They’re the best girls,” Mason said. “When I joined it freshman year, it was led by two second-year girls, Gretchen Honnold and Becca Moffett. I remember that year, just looking up to those girls and how Becca was so good at really leading the group and guiding the group in conversation.”
Ellie Erickson, one of Mason’s friends from the Bible study group, has known Mason for 20 years. Their families went on joint vacations, and they both applied to Elon. After deciding to room with different students in order to meet new people, the system randomly paired them up as suitemates in Staley. Their friendship has grown during the course of college and they now live together in an off-campus house.
“Since coming to Elon, Ginna Claire and I have both grown in our faith in God,” Erickson said. “Through InterVarsity and our small group, we have struggled and grown in our faith. Her unwavering faith is an inspiration to me and pushes me to continue striving to know God better.”
Mason auditioned at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in the spring of her first two years at Elon. The SETC offers a way for actors and actresses to work professionally during the summer as they study music theater during the school year, and Elon encourages students to pass the qualifying rounds and then go to the conferences.
After an audition, Mason received a callback and a subsequent job in Findlay, Ohio playing the title character in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and as Chiffon in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Behind the stage curtains
That summer in Ohio consisted of working, bike riding, swimming, eating ice cream and getting to know the Moffett family, which included Becca’s brothers, Mark and Eric. But one member of the family became something particularly special for Mason.
“The Fourth of July rolled around and Becca and Mark were both out of town and Eric was like, ‘Do you want to go watch fireworks?’ So we did,” Mason said. “And at the end of the summer, he asked me to be his girlfriend.”
Their relationship was usually long-distance. When he was in Colorado, she was in North Carolina. When he was in Ohio, she was studying theater, art and voice in London. While the distance was long, it did not weaken their feelings, and this past summer, the couple got engaged.
“We’re getting married in 247 days,” Mason said. “June 28th.”
Mason’s fiance comes to every show in which she performs, including “Crazy For You,” which had its opening night Oct. 25.
The show’s musical director and conductor, Richard Church, helped Mason as she learned vocals for the show.
“We worked on how to approach these songs not only as a professional singer, but as a professional actor,” Church said. “We adjusted how to breathe while singing and being held on the shoulders of two chorus men, how to carry her breath through on long phrases while tapping to a rigorous dance.”
One of Mason’s biggest songs in the play, “I Got Rhythm,” includes a few high notes she was unsure she could hit. Church saw this uncertainty as a challenge. They worked on it tirelessly, and now Church said Mason is belting perfectly during every performance.
“Her face when she figured out in my studio that she could do this was reward enough for me,” Church said. “Such a joy.”
The show has presented many other challenges to Mason, but the biggest obstacle she had to overcome was her knee, which she broke when she was 16 and again at age 18.
“I’ve had three knee surgeries,” Mason said. “But I can still dance. It’s a lot to work through. I’m in physical therapy. I have to ice it every day. It’s hard, it’s really hard.”
But the struggles to be the best she can be for “Crazy for You” are not all Mason is working through.
“We’re already into rehearsals for ‘Into the Woods,’ which is our senior musical,” Mason said. “We’re already in full rehearsals for that so it’s crazy.”
Mason will play the role of Little Red Riding Hood for the complex show. Despite a busy schedule, Mason said she has a firm grip on everything happening around her.
“The craziest part about the semester is being the audition coordinator, applying for graduate school, doing ‘Crazy for You,’ doing ‘Into the Woods’ and planning a wedding,” Mason said. “It’s a lot, but it’s all fun stuff. It’s all good stuff.”
After graduation, Mason hopes to go to graduate school in New York, where she will live with her fiance.
Mason has picked out some small details for the June wedding: the photographer, the ivory bridesmaid dresses, colorful flowers, a church in Nashville and a reception downtown in Houston Station, Tenn. Everything is falling into place, and Mason said she is excited for what’s to come.
She even thinks she’s found the perfect dress.