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Marschner’s theater lectures famous on Durham campus

By Tom Spencer, Staff Writer

Cameron Johnson/Staff Theater lecturer, Sarah Marschner, stands in front of her class laughing. Her famous and popular class, “Introduction to Theater and Dance,” typically begins with the entire Horton 4-filled class dancing to show music from her musicals or pop songs.
Cameron Johnson/Staff
Theater lecturer, Sarah Marschner, stands in front of her class laughing. Her famous and popular class, “Introduction to Theater and Dance,” typically begins with the entire Horton 4-filled class dancing to show music from her musicals or pop songs.

The lecture began with show music, as usual — usual if you are in Sarah Marschner’s class, that is. Today, the song is “The Joint is Jumpin’,” a piece from the musical “Aint’ Misbehavin’.”

And indeed the joint is jumping, as the Horton 4 auditorium is filled with students mirroring Marschner in jazz hands, disco pointing and out-of-time clapping to the music.

“Don’t quote me on this, but I’m not sure it’s dancing,” said Marschner, UNH’s Theater 435 course and history of musical theater professor. “It’s more moving.”

This opening class ritual is well known around campus. It has been somewhat toned down since Marschner’s days of directing a children’s theater troupe with a game called “Follow the Marschner,” which involved running around and leaping off of chairs.

“We don’t do that anymore,” Marschner said. “I found that right from the beginning it was much better if we all did something together … so that we all come together and they are pumped up to listen to what I have to say in that lecture.”

The song selection usually comes from musical theater.

“I like to use musical theater because most people don’t know that musical theater has rock and rhythmic music and fun stuff, too,” Marschner said. 

Marschner’s class is always very active. In the lab, students do improvisation, theater games and playwriting.

“I really feel they need to experience … getting a laugh … writing a line that suits a character,” Marschner said. “It was very important to me that there be a time in the course when the hands-on stuff fits in.”

Marschner was a middle school English teacher and a high school drama teacher. She is the youngest of four kids and found that theater was a way for her to be heard and to do something her two sisters and brother could not do.

“I can remember going to a class and the teacher looked up at me and said “‘Oh, another Marschner, hmm. Are you athletic?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are you this?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are you that?’ ‘No.’ This woman actually looked at me and said, ‘What do you do?’ And I went, ‘I can sing, I can dance,’” Marschner said.

Since then, Marschner has performed in multiple shows. Some highlights in Marschner’s long career include “The Music Man,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Pippin” and “Grease.”

“I have been hired three times to play the principal in ‘Grease,’ and I had more fun in that than in anything,” Marschner said.   

She prefers musicals but loves all theater.

“I think my favorite might be ‘Godspell,’ as a performer, as an audience member, as a director, as a script,” Marschner said.

Marschner was an intern at the UNH summer theater when she was 14 years old. She performed for three years during the school year in the Little Red Wagon.

“At the end of my time there, I came back to UNH to study education, and Carole Burns said, ‘You’re going to take over the Theater 435 class … because you’ve been in [all the plays],’” Marschner said.

Sarah Marschner has had a close relationship with the UNH faculty for a long time.

David Kaye, UNH professor of theater and dance, has known Marschner since the two worked together in the Hackmatack theater house in Maine, where Kaye served as the Artistic Director from 1993 to 1996.

Kaye later hired Marschner to play Rose, the wife of the biblical Noah in Kaye’s play “And God Said (@%#$!).” 

“There was one line that Sarah [Marschner] could simply not say without breaking,” Kaye said. 

“‘God has informed us that we will be responsible for repopulating the earth and he doesn’t think this should be any big deal.’ To this Sarah, as Rose, responds, ‘10 Billion kids attached to my booble unit and you don’t think that’s a problem?!!’ She just could not get the word ‘booble unit’ out without ending up on the floor in tears of laughter,” Kaye said.

Marschner has taken a break from shows to focus on her lecturing.

“Friends of mine about the university [ask], ‘How come you haven’t been in a show lately?’ And I say, ‘I do four shows a week in front of 250 people each time,’” Marschner said.

A show is certainly the best way to describe Marschner’s classroom atmosphere. No description of a theater technique is complete without an example demonstration from Marschner, from the origins of theater in ancient Greece to modern day musicals.

But the remarkable thing about Marschner’s class is that so many of her students are not theater majors at all. Many simply take the course to satisfy their general education requirements but find they are still enriched by Marschner’s course.

“My TAs are always a little astounded at how these engineering students cut loose … with lab performances. I always tell them, ‘It doesn’t leave this room,’” Marschner said.

“Most of the people in the class I’ve talked to aren’t theater majors,” Emily Hart, a freshman communication science and disorders major enrolled in Marschner’s class, said.

“[Marschner’s] whole goal is to make us more apt to go to a performance; she doesn’t want us to turn into performers,” Hart said.

“We have to go to two shows throughout the semester, and I’m interested in going to those just to see what they’re like,” Stephanie Gentile, a freshman occupational therapy major said.

“The non-theater majors really get something out of [the class],” Marschner said. “Theater is a reflection of our lives, and a reflection of the human spirit, and we can learn more about ourselves from seeing a theatrical piece.”

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