For decades, world-renowned performing groups such as Disney World, Cirque du Soleil and Radio City Music Hall have worked with athletic trainers to keep their performers in peak condition and now, Marshall University student performers have the same opportunity.
Since August 2014, the Center for Wellness in the Arts (CWA) has given performing arts students the chance to work with certified athletic trainers to prevent injury from occurring during performances, according to Dr. Michael W. Prewitt, dean of the College of Health Professions.
“Last semester, our athletic trainers provided specialized rehabilitative care and injury prevention to the student musicians, vocalists and dancers in the College of Arts and Media,” Prewitt said. “This semester, we have branched out to include our exercise physiology laboratory as a location for further on-site training for the actors and actresses of Cabaret.”
Dr. Terry Shepherd, director of the exercise physiology laboratory, said this performance-enhancement training is accomplishing two things for the student performers.
“First, we have structured exercises specifically geared toward hip flexor strength, which will improve the type of dancing Cabaret requires, and second, we are training them to sing and dance without getting out of breath. We call this feeling dyspnea, which is the sensation of breathlessness,” Shepherd said. “Eventually we want to create physiological profiles on each of our student artists here at Marshall. Each test we develop will be targeted to specific performing artists to measure their physical capacity so we can learn how to improve their overall abilities on stage.”
Nicole Perrone, director and choreographer of Cabaret, said the four weeks of training in the exercise physiology laboratory have provided more than just physical benefits.
“This has provided a team-building experience for our students that has carried over into rehearsal. They work extremely well together and I think the training sessions have added to the strength of our ensemble in a positive way. These students are working hard and you’re going to see the difference on stage,” Perrone said. “I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface in terms of what is possible in the CWA. As we grow, we will continue to implement new programs and workshops including nutrition and performance anxiety. These are tools that will benefit our students for a lifetime.”
Marshall University Theatre’s production of Cabaret opened Feb. 18 in the Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre. Performances will continue Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 26-28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m. in the Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Student tickets are free with MU ID. Adult tickets are $20 and $15 for seniors. For tickets and other information, please call the theatre box office at 304-696-2787.
Closeup: For Pritchard, ‘Cabaret’ changes everything
“I thought it was a mistake,” the Marshall Theatre program senior admitted. “I never in a million years thought I’d be cast as Sally.”
At 276 pounds just two years ago, the Beckley, West Virginia, native was desperate to lose weight. After a 2010-head-on collision left her with four bulging discs accompanied by lower back pain, and after physical therapy and injections, Pritchard was faced with a choice to help her pain: have surgery or lose weight.
For Pritchard, surgery was never an option.
“I was really afraid I was going to get paralyzed,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard realized how a drastic change in her weight could improve her health, and she also knew it would benefit her self-esteem and her career.
“I’ve always been put in the motherly-type roles because that’s the way I was shaped. It was the way I carried myself,” Pritchard said. “And I was fine with those roles, but I always wanted to play the ingénue or leading lady.”
Pritchard spent the next two years shedding 93 pounds at the Marshall Rec Center and began working with Marshall’s Center for Wellness in the Arts last year.
“Elliot Smithson and Dr. Mark Timmons showed me that I could strengthen my core and strengthen my lower back to maybe audition for Cabaret.”
Auditions for Cabaret came and went, and when Pritchard saw the cast list, she knew it was her persistence and dedication that landed her the dream role of Sally Bowles.
“I’m so connected with this character and the show,” Pritchard said. “Sally is very insecure. She hides‑she puts a lot of masks up so she won’t get hurt. I find myself doing that.”
After cutting six inches of hair for the role, Pritchard said she has gained much more than content for her resume with her performance in Cabaret.
“Now that my hair is shorter, I feel that I’m more open as a person,” she said. “Because I don’t hide behind my hair anymore, I can be more confident. And I whole-heartedly believe that if I hadn’t lost the weight, I wouldn’t have gotten the role. But not only that, I gained a lot of confidence in myself.
“Before Cabaret, I looked at my back injury as being a disability or a crutch—something that I couldn’t do a lot of things anymore,” Pritchard said. “And after pushing myself through therapy and dances, it made me realize that I can get back into what I love and what I want to do.”
Photos: (Above) Marshall senior Emily Pritchard worked out with the Center for Wellness in the Arts to get ready for her role in “Cabaret.” (Below) Pritchard in costume for her role as Sally Bowles.