When Devon Hayakawa, a 2019 Ball State alumna, returned to theater for the first time in eight months, she said, performing on stage felt electric.
“There's a little bit of magic missing right now,” Hayakawa said. “Performing on a stage gives you so much power. You're sharing the story with something beyond just yourself, which I think is a really, really awesome endeavor I have chosen to go on.”
The puzzle pieces of performing fell back into place for Hayakawa as she participated in Porchlight Music Theatre’s virtual production of its cabaret series, “New Faces Sing Broadway,” among the red velvet seats at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago.
Splitting the filming for the production into two days, Hayakawa filmed Oct. 4 with four other Chicago-based performers — Isabella Andrews, Ciera Dawn, Tim Foszcz and Parker Guidry — as they sung pieces from the 1987 Broadway season. On a spiral staircase backstage at the Studebaker Theater, she performed “Make Up My Heart” from “Starlight Express” as her solo piece. Staring into a dressing room mirror, she also performed “Typical High School Senior” from “Smile” as a trio with Dawn and Andrews.
“There's a lot of people feeling really down and out about the lack of theater or the difficulty of theater right now,” Hayakawa said. “It was nice to be able to reconnect with people even though the circumstances made it so we had to keep distance to be safe. It was so nice to get to know people.”
Chris Pazdernik, Porchlight Music Theatre’s casting and company manager, invited Hayakawa to join the 10-person cast for “New Faces Sing Broadway 1987,” she said, after he saw her in the first production she did after graduating, “Baked! The Musical,” at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival.
Michael Weber, Porchlight Music Theatre’s artistic director, helped devise the concept of the cabaret series in 2015 to showcase up-and-coming musical theater talent in the Chicago area. Typically, Porchlight Music Theatre hosts the cabaret performance at SPACE, a live music venue in Evanston, Illinois, and the Arts Club of Chicago to a 150-member audience “jam-packed of theater nerds” who want to meet new talent.
“During the pandemic, we just need to keep figuring out ways to forge forward,” Weber said. “You have a lot of new artists who are coming onto the scene, and unfortunately, with the circumstances, it just does not afford them to do what they've trained, many of them their whole lives, to be able to do.”
While the Porchlight Music Theatre staff had to learn on its feet to produce and film this season’s performances, Weber said it was important for Porchlight Music Theatre to continue hosting the cabaret despite the ongoing pandemic because the series helps performers develop their professional career.
“Having a series like this is important because it is unique in Chicago — nobody is doing anything like us,” Weber said. “[Young artists] are thrust into the marketplace, and they've got to sink or swim to figure out how to get into the community, how to get their first job and how to move up to the next job. The purpose of the series is really to be there as just a helping hand to put a spotlight on somebody at an earlier point in their career to hopefully give them a little bit of a shove forward out of the pack.”
As Porchlight Music Theatre brought in a film and sound crew for the virtual production, Weber said, new challenges also arose because some of the “new faces” had never performed in front of a camera before. When performing live in front of an audience, Weber said, a performer has to project their personality out to the back row so the audience there can experience what an actor is doing. With a camera, an actor has to perform more intimately.
“You need to keep it behind your eyes — the camera is going to want to reach into you,” Weber said. “You're playing to an audience of one, and it's the person who is ultimately going to be watching what the camera caught on video.”
As Hayakawa looks forward to streaming the performance to see how film benefits cabaret, she said, she also recognizes how her time at Ball State prepared her for her professional career in theater. As a Ball State student, Hayakawa had Beth Truitt, assistant teaching professor of theatre, musical theatre and voice, as her voice teacher.
Truitt helped Hayakawa unlock her soprano voice and challenged her to be fearless by giving her songs that weren’t the obvious choice for her to sing to prove to Hayakawa she was versatile and could sing most anything.
“I have hundreds of former students all over the country, and not a week goes by that I don’t receive a message from one, or have a check-up lesson or even just a chat,” Truitt said. “The commitment that I make to each of them is one I take quite seriously, and they all know that I am always there for them, Devon included.”
Because Ball State’s Department of Theatre and Dance workshops a lot of new plays and musicals, Hayakawa said, this helped her as she and the rest of the cast and crew of “Baked! The Musical” worked through rewrites to best portray their characters.
“A lot of the time, theater practitioners are very guilty of learning things from a soundtrack, and you cannot do that with a musical that hasn’t been done before,” Hayakawa said. “It was a great challenge and tested my musical abilities. We developed a soundtrack for the musical, which was really fun because we’re the ones they listen to if they do this musical again in the future.”
Not only is Truitt excited and immensely proud whenever she hears about Hayakawa’s newest project, Truitt said, but she will also forever keep track of and check in with Hayakawa about her future endeavors.
“I would just say my life is better because Devon is a part of it,” Truitt said. “I expect great things from her, not only because of her immense talent, but because of the truly wonderful human being that she is.”