Pegasus Players hit 90 and future is bright

The Dole auditorium at Norwich has been home to many performances, announcements, and school events, but it is always a special moment when students take the stage.

Since 1927 Norwich University has had a campus theatrical troupe called the Pegasus Players, and they traditionally perform twice a year at Dole Auditorium which just recently held a performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”.

Under the guidance of playwright Jeanne Beckwith, the theater director of the Pegasus Players originally from Lynn, Mass., the theater troupe at Norwich has now marked the 90th year of hosting performances at Norwich. It is an accomplishment Beckwith is proud of.

“Ninety years, and I think one of the things you’ll find if you trace it is that there has always been theater at Norwich, they used to have a play at commencement,” said Beckwith. “From early on when it was in the town of Norwich to here in the town of Northfield, it always seems like there has been someone that has wanted to do theater, since the Civil War onwards.”

Beckwith, who has been producing plays and writing since 1982, received her doctorate from the University of Georgia and an artist fellowship from the Indiana Arts Council.

“We’ve always had a core groups of kids, not necessarily English majors, that want to do theater,” explained Beckwith. “It’s technically not a club, it’s an arm of the English department.”

Brett Cox, a professor of English at Norwich University, who hails from N.C. and is the husband of Beckwith, noted that Pegasus Players holds an important distinction at Norwich. “Well, it’s the oldest continuous student organization on campus and it’s the 90th anniversary,” he said. “Norwich is a place full of traditions and that is certainly one of the most enduring traditions Norwich has, whether Norwich realizes it or not, is that almost century long student theatrical association.”

Now, with plans at Norwich for a new drama facility to replace Dole at Webb Hall, and the hiring of a new theater professor, this last play was Beckwith’s last time directing for Pegasus in Dole.

Lighting, sets, costumes, and other theatre demands are all taken care of by the students in the Pegasus Players. Students become involved with Pegasus for a variety of reasons, from people wandering in to those whom have need for extra credit, or even those that enjoyed theater in high school and wanted to continue in college.

“Whoever joins Pegasus has a place to go, has a safe harbor, here for all these years in Dole Auditorium,” said Cox. “I think that in itself is something very important, it builds community in the Pegasus Players, and they are, year after year, very tightly knit, a family of young people.”

This year’s troupe is one of many that has graced the stage at Norwich University and written their names in the dressing room wall as a tradition. It is a whole community of production, not forgetting the invaluable help other faculty have given to the troupe.

“It’s a great experience, a great team, and a great community,” said Nikki Matheson, faculty at the Academic Achievement Center at Norwich University, who is the  lead costume designer and lives in Montpelier. “There’s really devoted students and they’ll take on any challenge.”

Matheson, who apprenticed for a costume designer in New York City while she was in college, has given the Pegasus Players their style for five full productions.

“It’s a great experience, and a great team,” said Matheson. “There’s always something to do, always something to learn in theater, anyone who wants to experience it should come join us.”

The most recent Shakespeare production, “As You Like It,” had a cast and crew of about a dozen that brought the stage to life from April 13-15.

“In my experience, [Pegasus] integrates the students from both lifestyles really well,” said Brianna Hale, an international studies and Spanish major from Maine. “You’re here as an actor, you’re not here as a rook, as a cadet, or civilian, you’re here to act, to be on stage. There’s a huge sense of community here on stage and you have to trust the people you are working with.”

Pegasus sometimes goes unnoticed with there being no drama major at Norwich University, but there is always a small group of students dedicated to the craft of acting.

“My company first sergeant came and asked me if I like singing and acting and I said ‘Yes’ and he said ‘Good you’re going to show up here at this time’,” said Angelina Coronado, 18, a neuroscience major, from Mich. “And I instantly fell in love with the people we are working with and the play itself.”

Coronado played the Duchess Frederica and Lord Jaques in the recent play, and plans to continue as a Pegasus Player. “People can be quick to judge that theater will be boring or lame, but when they actually come out, you see that everything isn’t what it really seems,” said Coronado. “Next year with the new director, they were talking about pop-up theatre, so that will be a lot of fun to work with.”

“The connection that everyone has and how it evolves from the beginning through rehearsals to the end is special,” said Hannah Vitolo, 21, a junior from Massachusetts. “Being able to put on the show and meeting new people is my favorite.”

“In high school I went to a performing arts school, and I did tech there, and if there was one club I was going to join it was going to be the drama club,” said Chris Earle, 21, a mathematics major from California. “There’s such few of us, we work with what we got, we take an empty stage, we make sets, we go from nothing and make a whole performance, and it’s a crazy notion.”

The dramas and musicals will continue as Norwich creates a fine new performing space and hires a new theater director.

“The position is supporting the continuation of Pegasus Players at Norwich, it is a full tenure track position and we are hiring someone with a doctorate in theater,” said Beckwith. “The people who came to interview have PHDs and they have had quite a bit of experience.”

Beckwith and drama staff had input on the new design of the drama facility – what was needed both structurally and technologically. There will be an updated sound system, full dressing room for men and women, scene shop, and state-of-the-art lighting according to Beckwith.

“I think the future looks very bright,” said Cox.

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