Senior talent


May Day musical features talents of five seniors

Bluffton University’s May Day musical “Curtains” features the leadership of five seniors. For some, it will be the final step in their college musical career, for others it is just the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of the stage, but for the lead, it will be his swan song. 

The show’s director, Dr. Melissa Friesen, a professor and chair of communication and theatre at Bluffton, says it is rare to have so many seniors participate because they are often preparing for graduation, completing internships and focused on commitments within their majors.

“We see a lot of growth between their first year and their fourth year at Bluffton,” said Friesen. “They have the work ethic, they have the commitment to the show and they have the ability to balance all of the things that students do. It’s very beneficial to have seniors.”

Nathaniel Haas, a middle childhood education major from Wadsworth, Ohio, is playing the lead role of Lt. Frank Cioffi in the musical set within a musical. Cioffi arrives on the scene opening night of a new musical at Boston’s Colonial Theater to conduct the murder investigation of the musical’s leading lady.

This is his third May Day musical. “It is a big commitment, but it is worth it in the end,” said Haas. “Getting to work with everybody is probably one of the best experiences from my time here.”

While Haas is a senior, he still has one semester remaining. He will student teach in Chicago next fall before seeking a permanent teaching position. However, the performance will be bittersweet for the theater kid at heart.

“I’m viewing this as my finale.”

The two other senior men, Justin Weaver and John Eckenrode, will have the opportunity to participate in the musical one more year as students as they both will be fifth-year seniors.

Weaver, a senior graphic design major from Bluffton plays Harv Fremont has plenty of experience with the May Day musical as he was cast in some of the productions as a high school student.

“I love doing this because it lets me express my creativity without having to be a music major,” said Weaver.

Eckenrode, a middle childhood education major from Oregon, Ohio, is the stage manager and is considering pursuing stage production as a career. He jokes that having so many repeat performers is both a blessing and a curse.

“Working with the same people is nice. You learn how to support them and how to push them as well,” said Eckenrode. “But it’s also kind of annoying because it’s like ‘I told you this last show. We’ve talked about this before!’”

The senior women aren’t ready to give up the spotlight quite yet. Both Rebecca Juliana, a social work major from Mechanicsburg, Va., and Amanda Bartel, a history major from Iowa City, Iowa plan to take part in community theater.

Juliana plays Carmen Bernstein, a sassy Broadway producer. She says the cast and crew have become a tight-knit group.

“We definitely grow as a family every year,” said Juliana.  “You form a theater-people bond where you absolutely could start singing a song from the middle of the show in the commons and other people could scream the lyrics back at you. It’s a fun time.”

“You get these inside jokes,” said Bartel, who plays the young ingénue Niki Harris. “It’s a fun little family that develops. You can’t avoid friendships in theater. We’re in rehearsal two to three hours a day together.”

For Friesen, it’s fulfilling to see these bonds naturally spring up starting freshman year and running through their time on campus.

“They find their soulmates, their tribe, the people who have similar interests to them, their connection with other people on campus through theatre.”

The musical will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 5-7, in Founders Hall. Tickets are $15 for reserved seats and $5 for open seating and are available online at or in person at the box office at the Marbeck Center Information Desk.

We see a lot of growth between their first year and their fourth year at Bluffton. They have the work ethic, they have the commitment to the show and they have the ability to balance all of the things that students do."