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Original cast of ‘Room Service’ returns for staged reading 10 years later

By

Madeline Paakkonen ’21

September 24, 2019

In 2009, twenty students joined the cast and crew of the Carthage Theatre Department’s production of “Room Service,” a wild comedy about a group of actors attempting to make it big while urgently trying to pay off a lofty hotel bill. Unknown to the student actors at the time, the play would profoundly affect their lives, becoming a symbol for their friendship, love of theatre, and appreciation for their time at Carthage.

Now a decade since its Wartburg Theatre opening, the original cast returned to Carthage on Saturday, Sept. 21 to relive their memories with a lively staged reading of the play.

Tommy Novak ’11 in the original ’09 production.Tommy Novak ’11 in the original ’09 production.The reunion event was orchestrated by original cast member and current Carthage faculty member Tommy Novak ’11. After realizing that the play was coming up on its 10-year anniversary at Carthage, Novak became dedicated to fulfilling a pact the cast had made upon the show’s closing.

“We all joked upon the closing of this show that in 10 years we would all get back together and read the script aloud, even if it was someone’s living room,” explained Novak. “I tried to get in touch with everyone who was involved with this show. Every single person I got in contact with said ‘Yes, I’ll be there without question. When and where?’”

Novak’s dedication and excitement for the reunion event was shared by all of the returning alumni, including Brigette Estola ’11, now based in New York City where she writes, produces, and directs her own productions along with working on and performing in a variety of projects in the area.

Slim Simonini ’12 (left), Brigette Estola ’11 (center), and Caitlin Zant ’12 (right) in the...Slim Simonini ’12 (left), Brigette Estola ’11 (center), and Caitlin Zant ’12 (right) in the original ’09 production.“‘Room Service’ is my favorite production we’ve ever done,” said Ms. Estola. “I am so happy to experience it again.”

The production brought back many fond memories for the cast members while also creating new ones. Along with the comedic aspects of the play, including an intense feast scene in which a cake, watermelon, and multiple apples were demolished, current Carthage theatre Professor Martin McClendon joined his former students on stage as hotel manager Joseph Gribble.

“It was fantastic to see all the faces of our former students coming together for this,” explained Prof. McClendon. “And not only the cast, but the stage management team, the assistant director, as well as a number of alums who came just to watch. It really was a unique event; we haven’t done anything like this before. It was a great reason to get together and hear about all the amazing things our students have done since graduation.”

Prof. McClendon’s participation brings the event full-circle as he was the faculty member who oversaw the original performance. The cast members remember his influence and attribute many of their successes after Carthage to his guidance and teachings.

Alumna Caitlin Zant ’12, now a Maritime Archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, WI, remembers his guidance throughout her many productions from 2008-12.

“Martin would push us to do things we would never have done,” she said. “I am so grateful for that.”

Novak added to this sentiment in an explanation of why the show was so impactful.

“I feel that it was the point where I grew so much as an actor, felt safe to take risks, and dug deep into researching the life of the character and the world of the play that Prof. McClendon was trying to construct,” said Novak. 

Estola '12, Simonini '12, Peter Haroldson '11, and Cherisse Duncan '11 (from left...Estola '12, Simonini '12, Peter Haroldson '11, and Cherisse Duncan '11 (from left) in the original '09 production. The reunion serves as a reminder of how far each member of the cast and crew has gone since Carthage and the passion and drive that stemmed from the production. They all credit Carthage with having a great impact on their lives. 

 “I knew I loved theatre before Carthage, but I didn’t know how much I could love it,” said Slim Simonini ’12, who worked as a master carpenter with the Theatre Department from 2015-18 and is now an executive in Washington D.C. “To know it’s still alive in the hearts of my friends means the world.”

“Carthage has done so much for me and my career as a theater artist. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not attended this small liberal arts college on the coast of Lake Michigan,” added Novak.