At first glance, sophomores Erin Cressy and Emma Martinsen look like typical college students. However, they are already working well beyond their years, having recently founded their own theatre production company in Houston with their friend Wiley DeWeese, who is a student at NYU.
“It was something we had already thought would be a fun thing to do in the future, so we said to ourselves, ‘well, why not now?’” Cressy said.
This led them to create Bit of a Stretch Theatre Company, which, as it turns out, has not been much of a stretch at all thus far. Their first production under that company name had only four performances but sold out for two of them. The play they staged, Floyd Collins, is based on the true story of a Kentucky caver who became trapped while exploring Sand Cave in 1925.
They are already set to do at least one show during summer 2012. “We can’t do shows during the year while school is in session, but we’re still definitely working on it,” Cressy said. “We have to start planning and reserving spaces and getting rights to shows – it’s a really long process.”
This surprising amount of professionalism, they confess, comes pretty naturally to them now. “I think it’s the high school we came from, and our nature,” Martinsen said. “ It’s just who we are as people, and because we love it so much. We just do what it takes.” Cressy, Martinsen and DeWeese all graduated from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston.
This kind of determination has proved its strength in several aspects of their work, including the search for a theater they could rent to stage their shows. “There aren’t very many suitable, affordable theaters for rent in Houston, so the search was pretty tiresome,” Cressy said. “We eventually found the Frenetic Theater, a little place in the Second Ward known mostly for its dance shows. Our show was pretty demanding, so we had to adjust a lot, but it ultimately suited us well.”
Serious as they are about Bit of a Stretch, all three friends are very aware of the importance of keeping their respective options open. “I know the three of us will stay close friends. There’s no way we won’t,” Martinsen said. “But, you know, I might want to go to grad school, or I might want to go to New York and act for a couple of years.”
Cressy agreed, saying “Hopefully we can all do our own little thing and come back to [Bit of a Stretch], and be all the better for it.”
Having this theatre company has made them very well-rounded in the theatre business, though, and often by necessity. Since the intention behind Bit of a Stretch is to be purely nonprofit, Martinsen, Cressy and DeWeese cover most of the behind-the-scenes work on their own. For Floyd Collins, Cressy took care of all 13 cast members’ costumes and Martinsen did the lighting design and operation in addition to both of them co-directing the play. DeWeese is the company’s music director, treasurer and producer.
“You just learn so much from it,” Martinsen said. “That’s the best part − growing with the company. And it’s more fun to learn and experience the process of all of the things we have to do for the show. Obviously the end product is great, but the best parts are what leads up to it.”
Their practical skills are helping them in the classes they take at Southwestern as well. Cressy and Martinsen are both currently taking their first directing class, even though they’ve already directed three plays together. Cressy said the theory works backwards for them, explaining why they do what they already do, and giving even more depth to their learning experience. “We’ve already been practicing that theory but we just didn’t know it,” she said.
Cressy and Martinsen said they have benefited from being Southwestern students in other ways as well. One of their cast members from Floyd Collins was 2002 Southwestern graduate Brandon Hobratschk, who became even more enthusiastic about promoting the show once he learned that its directors were Southwestern students. He said he was amazed by the professionalism and expertise Cressy and Martinsen demonstrated and said the show “speaks volumes about the theatre program at Southwestern.”
Both young thespians said they have found a sense of belonging and possibility at Southwestern. “I chose Southwestern because of all the schools I applied and auditioned for, it felt like I could be the happiest here,” Cressy said. “I saw how talented the staff are and how much opportunity there was for a theatre student here, and I felt very drawn to the program.”