From the Stage to the Screen: Theresa Columbus ’11

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Theresa Columbus, about her work a creator of the feature-length film “Chaza Show Choir,” a musical comedy about a high-school show choir’s journey to Europe. The film was screened April 29th at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore.

Name: Theresa Columbus
Major: Interdisciplinary Studies
Grad Year: 2011

Q: Where did you first come up with the idea for “Chaza Show Choir”?

I had been writing and directing lots of short plays in Milwaukee, and my partner, Didier Leplae, was interested in collaborating on a longer piece that would have an orchestra, since he wrote music. I tried to explain that I really wanted to include a funny flavor that had to do with being in a show choir in high school and being a theater person in high school. I described a show choir I was in that traveled to Germany, and someone suggested it should be about a show choir that ends up in Germany.

Q: Can you tell me more about when you were introduced to musical theatre and how it has impacted you?

Musical theater was a joyful experience for me in high school. I could not wait to get to high school and jump into these activities which seemed so electric and full of life. My first theatrical experience in high school was not a musical: my sister was an incredible actor and had just gotten back from an intensive theater experience over the summer. She then directed a play that consisted of about 10 people–including me–wearing jeans and black turtlenecks, saying monologues created by young writers and doing movement pieces. The hours of theatrical exercises and movement and communication was so new and thrilling to me. The one performance of the play, “Insights,” was one of the most intense experiences of my teenage years. That happened within the first few months of my attending high school!

Q: What is your favorite musical?

My favorite musical… I don’t know. I’ve been working on collaborating on performance with kids and I just watched one of my roommate’s (Jake Budenz) favorite musicals of all time: The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s animated, full of wordplay, and is the best musical I’ve seen in a long time. We hope to cover one of the songs in a performance piece soon!

Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?

Yes! I’m working with my partner Aaron Smith on a participatory theater stage that will be part of “Lazy River,” an area of Artscape. I will write short pre-recorded plays that festival attendees may act out with us, and they may be able to compose their own, record them, and act out amplified versions of them! We’re still working out the kinks. Also, I am collaborating with 5 performers, as well as musicians and visual artists, to create public theater based on ideas of stages of life, in a project called “Sphinx & Co.” Also, I am in a group art show/performance that will take place in October in Milwaukee entitled “Distance.” It is a yearlong project where I and 3 artists in different locations around the USA are collaborating on text and visual exquisite corpses, as well as portraits taken at dawn and a performance based on concepts of distance.

Q: If you could meet one person in the world who would it be and why?

If I could meet a person in the world I think it would be Laurie Anderson. Listening to her recordings where she tells stories and sings, you can tell she would be an incredible person to talk to. She’s inspired so much good art in this world. She has carved a life doing performance art that I find fascinating.

Q: Looking back on your time at UMBC, tell us what you think makes this place so special.

Preminda Jacob, Lisa Moren, Temple Crocker, Steven McAlpine, Fred Worden, James Mahoney, Mark Durant, Steve Bradley, Kathy O’Dell . . . there are so many teachers, advisors and role models that I felt so fortunate to have access to! Many of these teachers were open to and encouraged discussion outside of class… there are so many gems at UMBC, that’s what makes it special. And though I didn’t meet with him, I have so much respect for the school’s president: Freeman Hrabowski. My most memorable experience at UMBC was walking and talking with Preminda Jacob, noticing the beauty of the decorative grasses on campus, after an art history class that she taught with unbridled enthusiasm.

Learn more about Theresa’s work.