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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The show must go on! “Emma” cast changes gears after student’s death

Claire Geriak
The cast of Emma, based off Jane Austin’s novel, rehearse in the vacant Garvin Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Santa Barbara, Calif. With more than a week until their first performance, the SBCC Theatre Group has switched gears to incorporate Luke Hamilton’s role as Frank Churchill after the death of his friend Benny Schurmer.

Katie Laris, a stage director and instructor of acting, has seen many students come and go through the City College’s theater program. Many formed close relations due to the long hours required through productions. 

“We are a very tight intentional family. The students work every single day. We have been rehearsing since the beginning for about six days a week for at least four to five hours a day,” Laris said. 

The Tuesday following labor day weekend, the theater group at City College was prepared to begin their rehearsals for a play called Emma. A tragedy then struck that shifted the production’s timeline and affected the cast greatly.  

Benny Schurmer, who had been casted as a lead in this performance, died suddenly on Sept. 2. 

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Laris, the director “Emma,” knew Benny previously as she taught a class at the city college he had been enrolled in. 

“A lot of people who don’t live the life of theater felt like we should just cancel the show, but in theater we are committed to creating art and community,” Laris said. “We just knew that Benny would want us to go on and we have.” 

Once the decision had been made to continue with production, the cast was forced to shift their roles. Schurmer’s close friend Luke Hamilton, who was already going to be in the show as a different character, took over his role.

From left, Lexie Brent and Luke Hamilton set the scene during reversals for SBCC Theatre Group’s production of Emma on Sept. 30 in Santa Barbara, Calif. With a new lead role in the production, the crew has shifted roles around after the death of Benny Schurmer. (Claire Geriak)

“He was absolutely incredible and I was fortunate enough to perform with him last semester. He deserved this role and I wish I didn’t have to step into it,” Hamilton said. “Everyone knows that Benny was loved by absolutely everyone that he met.” 

According to the new lead, Laris has been extremely understanding of all the emotional difficulties the cast has been facing. The director feared that people’s grief due to their loss would make it impossible to continue the production of the play, but that was not the case. 

“Everyone has incredibly stepped up and worked to honor Benny. We are dedicating this production to him,” Laris said.

Despite the tragedy, the cast still anticipates excitedly for the show due to its background. It is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel “Emma” and is presented through a modern feminist perspective, you may recognize it from the 90s movie “Clueless.”

“Theater is about a moment in time where you all gather together, including the audience and the actors, and tell stories, human stories,” Laris said. 

Emma will be performed in the Garvin Theatre located on West Campus on Oct. 13 through the 28 at 7:30 p.m. and previews will be available Oct. 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. as well.

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