College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Theatre Student Writes, Produces Musical for Senior Project

Nearly freezing, Cara Vilencia stood in the cancellation line outside of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City on the last day of her first trip to the Big Apple.

She was on a trip in December of 2016 with several cast and crewmembers of the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre & New Dance. They made the trip across the country to meet with the playwright of the script for their then-upcoming 2017 production of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Once business was settled, the group split up to take in the city’s sights and sounds.

On her own, Vilencia stood 12th in line to see Broadway musical “Hamilton.” The cold nipped at her skin as the self-proclaimed “Hamilton”-obsessed fifth-year theatre student waited – and hoped – that 12 poor souls would forfeit their tickets for resale.

During the course of seven hours, 12th in line became 11th, then 10th, ninth and so on until Vilencia was the very next person to purchase a resale ticket. With “Hamilton” tantalizingly close, Vilencia daydreamed of finally seeing the show, experiencing it and telling everyone about it.

Then, reality came crashing down. The curtain would soon be drawn, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. Vilencia wouldn’t get see the show after all.

“I was a wreck,” she said. “I’d spent so much time listening to the musical. I performed a medley of it for the ACT club on campus and had done so much for it and I was just shut down at the very front.”

Feeling defeated, Vilencia caught up with the rest of her group and shared her plight.

One person suggested she write her own show about the experience, about how tough it can be to wait for a musical – and that’s when the idea of “It’s Tough to Wait for a Musical” was born.

Nearly two years later, Vilencia brought a production of her musical to the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theatre as part of a collaborative senior capstone project with five of her classmates. Joining the project was also Cal Poly Pomona Music alumnus Christopher Hollis, who composed much of the show’s music.

“From the beginning, when I proposed the project, I wanted to do a full production and see where it would take me,” Vilencia says, adding that theatre department chairman Bernardo Solano encouraged her to “dream big” when compiling her project. “I spent my entire summer working on the script, and I needed help with the music so I asked [Hollis] to help me write it.”

Of course, it’s tough to produce a musical. That’s why Vilencia’s senior project soon became a collaborative Winter 2018 senior project for five additional theatre students: Christina Otarola, Amber Acosta, Deanna Reis, Kyle Schriver and Gabriel Ortiz.

To make the show possible, each student focused on his or her specialty, whether it was acting, stage managing, lighting design, scenic design or a combination of things.

Although not explicitly, an autobiographical account of her experience in New York City, Vilencia says “It’s Tough to Wait for a Musical” is true enough to reality.

“Obviously there are things I had to change to make it a musical,” she said, “but the experience itself fit so well into the show.”

Vilencia portrays the main character, Cara, as she’s waiting to see a nondescript musical that’s only referred to as “the biggest musical on Broadway.” She traveled 2,817 miles across the country to see it, but now she has to wait in line with other potential patrons.

The three main characters include Cara, the dashingly suave Gabe, and brazen antagonist Sarah – the latter of whom attempts to undermine a romance spurred between Cara and Gabe while bragging about having seen the show many times before Cara.

“I could not ask for a better antagonist for the show than the real-life inspiration for Sarah’s character,” Vilencia says. “The real woman was this person who passed out her business card and talked about how she saw the original ‘Hamilton,’ and she waited in line for three days. I wondered why she was here if she’d already seen the show and saw the original cast, but no, she was dedicated to sit at the front of the line and she’d been there since the night before, having slept on the ground.”

Vilencia says her musical also serves as commentary on what she sees as the state of professional theatre and where she believes it ought to lay its priorities.

“I’m scared for theatre and that it’s headed toward becoming a more profit-focused industry than an art-focused industry that brings light to the social issues and starting conversations, which theatre does so well,” she says. “

At Cal Poly Pomona, Vilencia wasn’t always a theatre student. She bounced from animal science to mathematics, unsatisfied and feeling unfilled with either, before eventually changing her major to theatre.

“When I got into the theater department, I was immediately hands-on with our shows and I learned a lot from the start,” Vilencia says. “We’re such a small department, so there’s many different things for our students to try and do.”

Vilencia was cast in one role or another during every quarter at Cal Poly Pomona, taking lead roles in productions such as “LA Views” and “Pride and Prejudice.” In addition to acting, Vilencia has taken an initiative to learn as much of the technical side of theatre as she can.

“I chose to branch out from acting and make sure that when I left here I had as much knowledge about theatre as I could get, because you never know where you’re going to end up once you leave Cal Poly Pomona,” she says.

As for what happens after she graduates this year, Vilencia is keeping an open mind.

“Ultimately, I want to be an actor and make an impact,” Vilencia says, “but I could also be happy being a director or a technician. I’d just like to be involved in the industry and I’ll keep an open mind – I refuse to close myself off from opportunities.”


Story & Photo by Chris Bashaw/Department of Theatre and New Dance