It started on a bench in Central Park.
Elon University 2011 alumni Claire Manship and John Yi sat in the heart of New York City, talking about various aspects of their lives. After wandering around several topics, Manship brought up the concept of creating a concert together.
As music theatre majors from Elon, the roommates started talking about how they could engage in a concert that also included their acting friends, Yi said, who was completely on board with the idea.
The first step was to create a solidified concept of the concert. After jogging their memories, they decided to bring back an exercise they had learned at Elon. This exercise, created by acting professor Richard Daniel, taught Manship and Yi one of their first lessons in Elon’s music theatre and acting programs.
Daniel had the students finish the sentence, “Hello, my name is.” The answers varied and revealed a lot about each person. Yi said he and Manship loved this concept and decided to name the concert they would create, “Hello, My Name Is…”
“It is a concert series showing the challenges, joys and lives of 20-somethings living in NYC striving to make their dreams come true,” Yi said. “It is a concert for 20-somethings to share what is going on in their lives right now.”
The second step was to book the venue. Manship called 54 Below, a renowned Broadway venue. Yi said they both wanted the show to start in a serious venue. When the representative from the venue said they had late-night spots open, Yi and Manship jumped at the opportunity.
“Obtaining 54 Below as the venue was definitely a ‘wow’ moment for both Claire and I, as it shed light on the often surprising dynamics of self-efficacy,” Yi said. “I give full credit to Claire who made it happen, and I definitely admire her for never backing down until she hears a response from the horse’s mouth.”
They also needed to get a concert lineup. Manship and Yi decided to make this show unique – it would include only Elon alumni. They received a good response from the performers they invited.
“Elon produces the type of performing artist that if they say they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it and do it really well,” Yi said.
Yi said he really wanted to include Elon students with Broadway credits, so when Alex Ellis, Class of 2005, joined in, he was very excited.
However, when push came to shove, the alumni with Broadway credits had to drop for various reasons. Yi said he could never be mad at these performers because they were getting work, and in the theater and music theater fields, getting work is not easy.
“After we cleaned up the lineup and got our venue, step three was making sure we had our rehearsal down and an accompanist for the show,” Yi said.
Elon alumnus Christopher Staskel, Class of 2010, offered up his friend Max Mamon, who is a writing and composing partner at the New York University graduate program, to play for “Hello, My Name Is…” His friend offered to do it for free.
Yi said while he was happy to see people from his alma mater come together to put on one powerful concert, there was a drawback to having only Elon alumni on stage.
“The only downfall of having an Elon-centered, Elon concert is nobody knows what Elon is outside of Elon,” he said. “No one knows what Elon is. No one in non-profit really knows what Elon is. It’s a little more of a low-key school. That is one of the disadvantages that we recognized that we would have to face.”
Despite this challenge, 54 Below had a good-sized crowd when the first concert ran Nov. 17. Yi knows the difficulties he and Manship faced along the way helped them in the long run.
“There were a lot of unforeseen challenges that helped us grow,” he said. “We knew there was going to be these challenges that we didn’t know of.”
During the show, Manship and Yi were not simply watching from backstage. They had their own performances.
“I’m excited to sing a duet with my roommate and dear friend, John Yi,” Manship said. “He is so incredibly talented and I’m pumped for our song.”
Yi said their duet was focused on capturing the visceral power of love and how it sometimes emanates from overwhelming sacrifice and pain. Choosing the song they would sing together was not an easy one, Yi said.
“The song selection process leading up to finally choosing ‘All The Wasted Time’ was somewhat arduous, seeing as we both have high expectations and we didn’t want to forcefully push the artistic process in a way that felt unnatural,” he said. “It was also very important for us to find a song that complimented the blending of our voices.”
The audience, as one would expect, was full of Elon alum as well. Sarah Oldham, Class of 2012, said what stood out to her, aside from the incredible talent, was the community she felt.
“Part of what makes leaving Elon so hard is leaving behind a strong sense of community,” she said. “Although the alumni performing spanned five years of graduating classes, you could truly tell their shared experience as performing arts majors brought them back together in New York with a desire to perform together. I don’t think that is something you would find coming out of a lot of other schools.
Manship said if she had to describe the concert she and Yi put together, she would use three words: discovery, fearlessness and nostalgia.
Both alumni said Elon helped them get to the successes they have experienced since graduation.
“Elon prepared me to be a well-rounded individual who, with no questions asked, pursued what I wanted to do after school,” Yi said.
Manship said Elon is her greatest training ground for theatrical performers and she is honored to call it her alma mater.
Because Yi and Manship have such strong ties to the Elon community, they were eager to offer advice to the Class of 2014 music theatre majors.
“Relish every moment because where you are right now is where you are supposed to be,” Yi said. “I’m happy with what I’m doing, but I’m always relishing every moment. What’s happening right now is supposed to happening. The universe puts systems in place for us to achieve the goals we want to achieve according to its own time.”
Yi said it can be hard to relish the negative emotions, like frustration, fear and anger. However, it is best to savor those moments, release them and then move forward. He also encourages the seniors to attend every dance class they can since practice rooms in New York City are generally very expensive.
Yi and Manship have big plans for the next show, which is booked for February. They hope the show will include alumni from other schools and top music theater schools from around the country. They are also planning on changing the name of the concert and rebranding it to include alumni outside of Elon. Overall, the next show will be more diverse.
“Through multiple means of feedback and the inevitable process of trial and error, we definitely intend on ensuring that the logistics, operations and long-term impact of the show constantly improve,” Yi said. “Amidst all of this room for improvement, however, Claire and I also intend to cherish this concert series as our fun, creative project.”