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arts student life

The power of art: Devin McDuffy uses his voice to change the world

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As the lights come up, setting the stage for William Shakespeare’s solo, the supporting actors on stage begin to shout. “Will! Will! Will!”

Devin McDuffy stands with his back to the “Something Rotten!” audience, which fills all 439 seats in Ruth N. Halls Theatre. He wears black heeled boots, tight black leather pants and a hot pink leather vest for his big solo that is always a fan favorite.

The music for the song “Will Power” begins and the crowd goes wild. McDuffy, however, is unphased. He has rehearsed this song so many times in the past few months that he doesn’t even feel like himself while standing on stage; his “actor brain” has taken over. He has embodied William Shakespeare.

Although the song lasts for almost five minutes, to McDuffy, it feels like only a few seconds. With one blink, it is over. As the crowd rises to their feet, they begin to applaud. There is cheering from every corner of the auditorium, all in celebration of McDuffy.

“That was the loudest applause I have ever heard for myself,” McDuffy said. “It made me realize that what I am doing is so correct for me.”

The energy from the crowd seeps into his veins the longer he stands and soaks in the applause.

“It’s a sensation of just... energy,” McDuffy said recalling that night. “From the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes, to the top of your head.”

McDuffy began participating in theater in his junior year of high school after playing cello in the orchestra for his sophomore year production of “The Addams Family.” When the next round of auditions came, he decided he wanted to try being in the spotlight, rather than in the pit.

[Related: IU Cinema to host Friday Night Frights this semester]

His first musical was “Shrek the Musical,” where he played Papa Ogre and ensemble. From that point on, he was committed. He auditioned for every musical his high school put on and even started doing community theater in Indianapolis.

In his time at IU, McDuffy, a junior, has performed in 10 shows and directed two others.

Despite his success in directing at IU, McDuffy has also found a passion for writing musicals.

In fact, he has been writing a musical for almost a year and a half and he is hoping to perform that musical before he graduates from IU in May of 2025.

Now, four years after that fateful audition for “Shrek,” McDuffy is studying Musical Theater and is producing his upcoming show “Heathers” as a co-director with senior Sam Schultz.

More than 60 people auditioned for "Heathers,” giving the directors plenty of talent to produce the dark musical.

“Heathers” is a dark comedy following Veronica Sawyer, a senior at Westerberg High, who works her way into the highest clique at school: the Heathers. The musical takes a dark turn when a series of deaths occur in the school.

McDuffy has a much deeper take on the ‘80s classic.

McDuffy said that in the first act, the audience sees Veronica become popular and, suddenly, for the first time she feels beautiful.

In the show, her sense of self-worth doesn’t stem from how she feels about herself but rather who she is surrounded by and what other people think about her.

McDuffy said the show highlights the idea that who you hang out with, how they talk about you and how you talk about yourself can strongly affect who you become.

“When we treat people the way we do, what kind of ripple effect does that create?” McDuffy asked.

“Heathers” is set to debut Dec. 7. McDuffy said he has been dreaming of doing this show since his freshman year and he couldn’t be more excited to finally present it on stage.

[Related: First Thursdays to return this week with local artists, attractions]

This isn’t the only play that McDuffy and Schultz have directed that had a deeper meaning.

In January 2023, McDuffy and Schultz put on a production of Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band.” The play follows a group of gay men as they gather in a New York apartment for a birthday party. According to Broadway World, the original play was groundbreaking for its portrayal of gay life on stage when it premiered in 1968.

Even though “Heather’s” and “The Boys in the Band” take place in the late ‘80s and late ‘60s, McDuffy thinks that both productions share messages present in our lives today. McDuffy said he noticed way too much bleeding over from past to present.

One of the biggest reasons McDuffy brought up the idea of directing “The Boys in the Band” to Schultz was because he feels like there is so much hatred within the LGBTQ+ community itself. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, McDuffy wanted to bring light to this issue.

“We should be helping each other fight against this oppression, but we are quite literally making it worse on each other by choosing to be awful to each other,” McDuffy said.

This is a huge message that “The Boys in the Band” discusses throughout the two-hour show.

He felt the same way with “Heathers” but with very different issues being brought to life.

[Related: Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts celebrates multiple art mediums]

Self-image has become such a dominant part of society in 2023, especially with social media, McDuffy said. In the show, Veronica’s desire to be liked goes as far as putting her life on the line.

“It should be a wake-up call,” McDuffy said. “It is 2023. We should not have that much overlap.”

Schultz, a film major, agreed that these stories have deeper meaning than what meets the eye.

The two boys share the same vision, Schultz said. They have been working together since McDuffy’s freshman year and have only ever had one disagreement: so monumental that they wrote down the date to remember it.

“They are stories that need to be told,” Schultz added.

There is power in telling a story on stage. McDuffy fell in love with theater because of the concept that one can leave a theater after watching a show and believe they will never be the same person again.

“You can tell stories that can change people’s mindsets and make the world a better place,” McDuffy said.

His long-term goal is to make a change with his performances and his writing, but while at IU, he also wants to make theater accessible to as many students and majors as possible.

During his audition process for “Heathers,” he reached out to dozens of students, theater majors and non-theater majors alike. He said you will never see yourself the way others see you, so you should not let your own fears hold you back from trying something you are passionate about.

“Never question how good you are,” Mcduffy said. “Just go into that [audition] room and be you.”

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