Leading the way on stage

Since graduating from Mahomet-Seymour High School in 2013, Caitlin Richardson has been a gangster and a poised Southern woman.

How many people have those notations on their resumes at age 22, along with a line indicating they are a college graduate?

Richardson’s life has been the epitome of busy during her four years at the University of Illinois.

Last weekend, she received her bachelor’s degree.

Her time as a gangster and as a proper Southern belle were more than a figment of her imagination, though the latter required all of her ingenuity to be someone more than 30 years her senior.

As a student at the UI, music major Richardson auditioned for and earned parts in an assortment of theatrical and lyric opera performances.

Last month at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, she had the lead in “The Light in the Piazza.” Richardson played the role of a woman who had a daughter older than herself.

“I get cast for quirky roles,” Richardson said.

Her final role as a UI undergraduate was “very difficult to wrap my head around,” she said, “especially going through emotions when I’ve not gone through them myself.

“I’ve never had a child. I’ve never had a child with special needs. There was a lot where I had to be empathetic.”

Richardson was also carrying a course load of 20 hours in her final semester. She did not receive classroom credit for the performance.

In addition to her academic load, rehearsals for the performance required a commitment of about 24 hours per week, starting in late February for two months.

Richardson needed the time. Her character (Margaret Johnson) was on stage for 19 of the 20 scenes.

Richardson had more than 150 lines, and she added, “a lot of them were paragraphs. Learning the part was a lot to swallow. It was a labor of love.”

In high school, Richardson had a lead role in Lady Macbeth, but she said, “that wasn’t close to as demanding.”

When auditions take place, candidates are asked if they have a preference for a certain role, “but they consider you for all things,” Richardson said.

She had more than a desire to play the role in which she was cast to close out her undergraduate career.

“It was my last show,” she said. “I wanted  Margaret or nothing.”

Of the eight people called back, Richardson was the only one who was not a graduate student.

Her idea for Margaret was to “personalize her in my own way,” Richardson said, “and give her my own flavor, not make her a carbon copy (of Margarets from other performances).”

At Illinois, Richardson played different characters and different roles.

“Humor is my niche,” she said. “Comedy is where I thrive, but I’m not bad at drama.

“I love being able to be versatile. The art of theater is putting on a different hat.”

Regardless of the character, some traits remain steadfast.

“You have to make every reaction come from an honest place,” Richardson said. “The most difficult part is to coordinate that with music. The reaction is measured to the note. You have to make sure the acting is genuine, not overacted or underacted.”

There are many similarities to the musicals Richardson participated in while at M-S and at the UI.

“They are basically run the same,” she said. “In high school, the tech and crew are doing it as an extra-curricular. At the UI, the tech and crew are getting class credit or are hired.”

Most of Richardson’s scenes as Margaret were in English,  but some were in Italian.

The story evolves around a 1950s trip Margaret takes to Florence with her adult daughter, Clara, to the location where Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had met in Florence.

For Richardson, that provided an ironic twist.

“She was showing Clara where she had her honeymoon at Point DeVickia, and that’s where I met (boyfriend) Brent two years ago,” she said. “We started dating at Point DeVickia.”

Though he attends Ole Miss — where Richardson will enroll as a graduate student next semester — they were both in Florence as part of the same singing program.

Richardson is pleased and satisfied by the progress she made at the UI.

“I didn’t have expectations of getting big roles here,” she said. “Pickings are slim for sopranos.”

Richardson plans to get her master’s degree in vocal music with an emphasis on pedagogy.

“The end goal is to be a teacher,” she said. “The dream is to be a director, but I love being on stage, too. I love being the one who creates everything.”

If she could be cast in her dream role, one comes quickly to mind.

“Mrs. (Nellie) Lovett in Sweeney Todd,” Richardson said.

Topics (1):Education

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