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Playwright, director, actor and more: one student does it all in 'The Arboretum'


A forest of enchanting trees, psychedelic music and dramatic plots twists await those who attend the new musical “The Arboretum” at 7:30 p.m. March 28, 29 and 30 and 11 p.m. March 29 at the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center.

“The Arboretum” tells the story of a graphic and colorful forest that is so enticing, once people enter it they never want to leave.

IU student Chelsea Sherman, 26, wrote the script, produced and directed the show, composed the music, created the costumes and sets, co-choreographed and also will be acting in the show.

The forest is a metaphor for the internet, Sherman said.

“It’s a social commentary of how most of us prefer to escape into an online world and how that affects our relationships with ourselves, other people and what happens to the state of physicals worlds around us,” Sherman said.

In the show, the characters face issues including the confusing nature of the trees found in the arboretum, which are meant to represent online personas people project into the internet. Another obstacle is the manipulation of the seemingly-perfect environment by the Greenskeeper, meant to represent large tech corporations.

The show is technically a musical, but Sherman said she created a show with songs that incorporate traditional musical theater style and electronic orchestral arrangements. Sherman also included some instrumental dance theater sections to express the characters’ feelings in an abstract way.

“I call my show a musical because it is one technically, but you could also call it a contemporary performance piece,” Sherman said. “I wanted to create something different in the style that I felt the most drawn to.”

Sherman created the show as her senior thesis for IU’s Individualized Major Program, in her individual major of Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance.

At the end of their college career every student who created an individual major must complete a final project related to their area of study, worth between three to 15 credit hours.

Sherman decided that crafting and producing her own musical was the best route for her.

This project counts for eight credit hours.

“Doing this sort of project is extremely ambitious,” Sherman said.

Sherman is returning student who dropped out in 2012 because she said although she had multiple interests, she never declared a major or found her niche. When she returned to IU in August 2017, she only wanted to take classes about her passion, music and playing with traditions of musicals. Creating her own major was the perfect solution, she said.

“I didn’t want to put in the investment for an arts degree unless I knew exactly what I wanted,” Sherman said.

Some of Sherman’s classes under her individual major include Musical Theatre Songwriting, Music Theory, Experimental Playmaking, Dance Theatre and Intro to Musical Instrument Digital Interface Computers.

This final project has allowed Sherman to continue to learn while creating something that includes her personal style and newly-learned skills, she said.

“It’s relevant, it’s not traditional, it’s fresh and also it’s interdisciplinary,” Sherman said. “I really just wanna challenge people that are really fixed in what musicals should be.”

This show is free and unticketed.

Correction: Previous versions of the photo captions attached to this story incorrectly referred to the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center and did not have the full run dates of “The Arboretum." The story also did not have the full run dates of "The Arboretum." The IDS regrets these errors.

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