Connections on Stage and Behind the Scenes Key to Monmouth College’s Season-Ending Musical ‘The Theory of Relativity’


Monmouth College’s 2023-24 theatre season will conclude with a musical production about youth and relationships.

The College’s Department of Theatre will present The Theory of Relativity April 18-21, directed by Lisa Wipperling, an assistant professor of musical theatre at Western Illinois University.

“These students are eager, enthusiastic, talented hard workers,” said Wipperling of the 17-member cast, which includes 16 Monmouth students and Monmouth-Roseville High School student Drew Carlson.

“They’re willing to take feedback and put it into place,” she said. “They encourage each other. I look forward to coming to rehearsal and seeing them every day – seeing what notes they’ve taken and put into the process, and where they’re growing from day to day. The cast has really come together in a beautifully energetic way. The energy in the room is light and caring and generous, and you’ll feel that when you come to see the show.”

Written for young actors

With music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and a book by Brian Hill, The Theory of Relativity, which premiered in 2014, explores how young adults deal with their personal feelings and situations and how they develop communities based on their shared experiences.

“(Bartram and Hill) wanted to put together a show that encapsulated the experience of high school students and college students, so that it would be performable by that age group, and college students wouldn’t have to be playing a 50-year-old,” said Wipperling.

She said The Theory of Relativity is just what the title suggests, on several levels.

“There are some references to the theory of relativity, there’s references to pi, there’s references to other equations,” she said. “It’s a little bit about equation stuff, but it’s way more about human relationships.”

As an example, she said, the last song of the show is titled “I Am Nothing Without You.”

“I just think it’s really true,” said Wipperling. “There are a lot of storylines that kind of weave in and out and interconnect, but also I am nothing without these actors, and these actors are nothing without the crew backstage, and the crew are nothing without the stage manager, and the stage manager is nothing without the director.”

In other words, she said, everything is relative.

“We are all connected in the telling of this story, but each and every one of us on this Earth are nothing without all the other people having some kind of relation to them. I dig into that part of the production more.”

Her Fighting Scots Theatre debut

Wipperling received her master’s degree of fine arts in acting from Louisiana State University in 2019 and remains active as a professional performer, most recently at The Clinton Area Showboat Theatre.

“(Monmouth theatre professor) Todd Quick saw a show (Last Train to Nibroc) that I directed in the fall and recommended me for this position, so I’m very grateful for him to put my name in the ring to be considered to do this,” said Wipperling, who’s been making the commute to Monmouth from Macomb every day for the four-hour rehearsals.

Being new to the Monmouth theatre scene, Wipperling is especially grateful for the new connections she’s making with faculty members and students.

“The director at a university level is not a one-man band,” she said. “They have a team of designers that all put their heads together to collectively put together a show with a group of students that is worthy of an audience. The team has just been fantastic to work with.”

That team includes Peter Rule, the lighting designer who also designed the set and built it with help from students. His Monmouth theatre department colleague Vanessa Campagna is the choreographer and costume designer. Former faculty member Janell Johnson is the music director, while Monmouth music professor Justin Swearinger assembled the pit orchestra.

“I think some theatre is escapism and entertainment only,” said Wipperling. “I think some theatre asks a question that wants you to answer it. Especially because of COVID and being isolated for so long, I think we are seeking connection. This whole show is about relationships and finding connections between people. If you want a little bit of entertainment, a little bit of escapism and a little bit of ‘Awww, I can relate to that,’ you’ll really love this show.”

# # #

Monmouth College will present “The Theory of Relativity” at 7:30 p.m. April 18-20 and at 2 p.m. April 21 at Wells Theater on the College’s campus. Tickets can be purchased online at Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $6 for students and faculty with a Monmouth College ID.

***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***

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