The Secret Garden


Photo by Seth Bowling

Josiah Brown, Features Editor

Every semester the TMU Theatre Arts Program puts on a new play. This year’s play is “The Secret Garden” which traces the dramatic story of the ten-year-old Mary who, after losing her parents in the cholera outbreak, is sent to live with her Uncle Archibald in his manor. Soon after this, Mary stumbles upon an overgrown garden on the manor’s grounds and begins to investigate. Upon her arrival, she meets a wide cast of characters including her reclusive and ailing young cousin Colin.

“It’s a beautiful, redemptive story that relates to a lot of people,” said Tricia Hulet, the director of the theatre program.

Photo by Seth Bowling

To make that story come to life, the cast of “The Secret Garden” rehearses their lines and songs over eight hours a week. As the weeks advance and opening night looms closer, the cast begins to work their way through the entire show without making any mistakes that would result in a restart of the entire musical. If a mistake is made, the cast and crew reset to Scene 1 of Act 1.

Despite this pressure to perform well, there is a air of closeness and humility at rehearsals that serves as tangible evidence of Christ’s work in the lives of the directors, cast members, and crew.

When asked what the program strives for, Bowling paused in thought, then responded, “People are more important than the program…investing in the lives of these students. Even if after college, some students never work in theatre again…if those students are closer in the relationship with Christ, then I would say we’ve done a good job.”

Abigail Halverson, who plays the housekeeper Martha in the musical, says of the program, “It’s a fellowship I wasn’t expecting to find in college, but I found in theatre.”

On top of all the work the theatre program puts into its plays, “The Secret Garden” is a musical complete with an entire orchestra. In addition to students having to work on acting, they also must perfect singing in character.

Seth Bowling, who acted in last year’s “Over the River and Through the Woods” and is now assistant director along with James Phillipps, notes that, “There is a certain rhythm to the play between the songs and spoken scenes.”

Jay Nelsestuen, who portrays Mary’s uncle Archibald, says the story and songs are inseparable. “I look at the songs and see how they connect to the story.”

Photo by Seth Bowling

Hulet says that this year’s play “has an awesome, deep story. A lot of musicals depend on the music and that’s it.” She is very adamant that “this musical is not that.”

“The Secret Garden” is set in the 20th century and calls for scenes both inside of a large manor and outside in the garden itself. Because of this, the entire stage changes from scene to scene: a massive task for the stage crew and props team who need to coordinate moving the set with actors and actresses singing their way around the set.  A month before the show premieres, the crew works on building the set each Friday and Saturday in an effort to create a believable set on a reasonable budget.

“I saw the set last year and was amazed at how good it looked,” said Caleb Magee, a new member of the stage crew, “and this year we are attempting to make a set on an even grander scale than last year.”

The amount of hours poured into the show culminates in two weekends of shows. This year’s show premieres April 6. Altogether, the program performs the show six times.