Students explore social issues in new musical

Hannah Beth Turner (right) rehearses a short scene during photo call for “Miss Independent” at Gordon Wilson Hall on Tuesday. “Miss Independent” is a musical written and directed by WKU Honors College seniors Kelly McGee and Shalyn Grow. Te musical has been written by the duo over the past two years, and is serving as their capstone project.

Chris DiMeo

Four women stood in front of a crowd in the Gordon Wilson Lab Theater on Tuesday night and pretended to be someone else. This was no oddity for these aspiring actresses but for their characters, it was a crisis.

The cast grappled with issues of identity, beauty and superficiality in “Miss Independent,” a short musical written as an Honors Capstone project by two students.

The performance was funded by the Honors College through Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) and Honors Development grants, allowing it to be free of admission costs.

The Honors Development Grant and FUSE offer monetary rewards to support the production of student projects and theses for travelling expenses, academic research and purchases relevant to the projects.

The musical followed four young pageant contestants — Macy, Violet, Nicolette and Harper — as they faced personal crises involved with life in pageantry. These issues ranged from keeping up with expectations of demanding parents, to finding worth in intelligence over beauty.

The musical also underscored the writer’s belief in the core objectification inherent in pageants in its central refrain directed at the fictional pageant judges; “everyone is beautiful to someone/I just need that someone to be you.”

Shalyn Grow and Kelly McGee authored the script for their Honors Capstone project, along with Hilarie Spangler, who composed the five original musical numbers featured in the show.

They were inspired to focus on pageant life, they said  when Grow attended the “Miss Strassenfest” pageant in her hometown of Jasper, Indiana she was surprised to see people she knew pretending to be perfect clones onstage.

This idea is central to the plot, as the characters struggle with assuming false personas for the sake of winning. In particular, it is seen in the character of Harper Yates, played by Lauren Hanson, who put on a show of exaggerated, superficial femininity to keep secret an essential part of her identity.

Grow and McGee conducted research for the script in New York City, and parts of the production have been performed at the “New Works Festival” and the “Feminist Theatre Showcase” at WKU.

The pair emphasize that “Miss Independent” is a work in progress, even with the possibility of undergoing a name change, but presenting the entire piece in front of an audience is a definite step forward.

Reporter Chris DiMeo can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]