Marquette theater students go pro with ‘The Lion in Winter’

Allie Bonesho (right) plays Alais, the French mistress of Henry II, in "The Lion in Winter." Photo courtesy of Kevin Pauly.

As the school year comes to a close, students from Marquette’s Department of Performing Arts are, as always, preparing to debut their season finale. The Helfaer Theatre, however, remains dark — because this year, Marquette’s final production is hitting the big leagues.

This year, Marquette students and faculty will join the cast and crew of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s season-ending “The Lion in Winter,” premiering tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Broadway Theatre Center in the Third Ward.

“The Lion in Winter,” set in England during Christmas 1183, focuses on the family of King Henry II, specifically the manipulation and plotting of his wife, sons and mistress to see who will next wear the crown.

While professional actors will play the parts of Henry II (Brian Mani), his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and his two elder sons Richard (Marcus Truschinski) and Geoffrey (Lenny Banovez), three Marquette students will portray the play’s remaining characters. Youngest son John will be played by senior J. Patrick Cahill, Henry II’s French mistress Alais will be played by junior Alexandra Bonesho, and Philip, the king of France, will be played by senior Joe Picchetti, all of the College of Communication.

Stephen Hudson-Mairet, the Marquette Department of Performing Arts’ artistic director and the scenic designer for “The Lion in Winter,” said this partnership is the first in about 10 years for Marquette.

“Each production is unique — whether on campus or off,” Hudson-Mairet said. “In terms of collaboration, Marquette has worked with professional theater companies in the past, but we have not had a professional and academic collaboration since my first year here, 2000 to 2001, when we worked with Chamber on the ‘Back to Methuselah’ series.”

Hudson-Mairet said C. Michael Wright, the artistic director for the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, approached Marquette with the collaborative idea in 2009, and students began auditioning in early January 2010, almost a full year-and-a-half before the show’s performances.

The ability to work alongside professional actors as well as fellow students is one Picchetti believes to be a great learning experience.

Joe Picchetti (right) plays Philip, the king of France and one of the many players in the battle for Henry II's crown. Photo courtesy of Kevin Pauly.

“It is an incredible and inspiring feeling to be a student collaborating with working professionals on the same show,” Picchetti said. “I’ve already learned so much, and I know that there is still more to learn.”

Hudson-Mairet said the production gives students a chance to see the difference between performance as a major and performance as a career.

“Our students are hard-working and they produce professional-quality work, but they are students, which means they have many, many things to keep balanced,” Hudson-Mairet said.

The schedule for “Lion” is one of the more challenging aspects of the switch. While most of Marquette’s theatrical productions are naturally built around students’ schedules, professional theater companies normally hold long rehearsals during weekdays when students have classes.

In order to allow Cahill, Bonesho and Picchetti to participate, the Chamber Theatre was able to amend the schedule so practices were held from 6 to 10 p.m., six days a week, at an accelerated rehearsal schedule.

But it’s not only the students involved in the acting end of the production that get to take part in the experience. Many members of the backstage crew come from Marquette as well, and some actors have been cast as understudies.

Altogether, there are 20 students from Marquette involved, including actors, understudies, assistant directors, stage managers, costume designers, scenic designers and lighting designers.

“There have been many students from either the scene shop or the costume shop that have been working just as hard to put this show together,” Picchetti said.

The sets and costumes also took a slightly different route than usual from shop to stage, having been crafted on Marquette’s campus and then sent over to the Chamber Theatre, a big change for students who are used to performing at the Helfaer.

“The work is great,” Hudson-Mairet said. “The costumes have been produced in our costume shop, and the level of professional work out of our costume shop is so high that it is as if it was produced by a professional shop.”

As opening night approaches, however, there’s one thing that’s barely any different for the student participants: technical week, the stressful period of time immediately before a show premieres, filled with hours of run-throughs.

It’s a hectic time meant to bring everything together, and while there may be individual differences between tech week at the Helfaer and tech week at the Chamber Theatre, Picchetti said the end result will be the same as usual—a professional, well-crafted performance.

“Marquette has always done an incredible job of preparing and rehearsing a show,” Picchetti said. “Then to take those experiences and share them in a professional setting is inspiring and refreshing.”

“The Lion in Winter,” the season-ending show for Marquette’s Department of Performing Arts and the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, will run from April 14 to May 1 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway St.

Tickets range from $16.50 to $39, and can be purchased at (414) 291-7800 or milwaukeechambertheatre.com. Marquette students, faculty and staff can receive tickets at a flat discount rate of $16.50 if they mention the discount when purchasing tickets and show their ID at the door.