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Lumen Scholar to stage original theatre production

From participating in family talent shows to working at Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina, Elon senior Christopher Staskel has always bled theatre, whether acting, dancing or singing. The North Carolina native, the fourth student to be featured in a monthly series of E-net profiles on the inaugural class of the university's Lumen Scholars, is now at it again – this time as the mastermind behind an original stage production.

Associate professor Lynne Formato with Elon senior Chris Staskel

Armed with a $15,000 scholarship to support his endeavors, Staskel is going behind the scenes, writing, directing and staging a music theatre performance that tells the story of a woman with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. It’s not easy, but there’s nothing he loves to do more than theatre.

“I wake up in the morning and think I can’t do anything other than this," Staskel said. "It’s a pull I’ve always had in my life. Creatively, this kind of project draws on all my training at Elon. Writing original musicals is a difficult process.”

The Lumen-inspired project is two years in progress. Although Staskel and Elon alumnus and composer Dan Gibson have produced several drafts together, the finish line remains elusive. Rewriting is a fact of life, and he is determined to chisel a story that delivers an emotional punch, which entertains as well as impacts the audience.

“When you go to a musical, you relate to what’s happening on stage,” Staskel said. “I try to write stuff that resonates with me, and I hope it resonates with the audience. I hope for an emotional connection.”

Staskel has been acting in big onstage productions since the fifth grade in Charlotte, N.C. As a music theatre major and Honors Fellow at Elon, he has taken classes that have finessed his acting core, which, in turn, have strengthened his dancing, writing and directing. With a solid background in music theatre, the Lumen Prize was a perfect opportunity, Staskel said.

“I knew I had to do a final thesis project,” Staskel said. “I’ve written plays before, and I’ve always wanted to write a musical. When the announcement came out for Lumen, everything matched up. The desire had always been brewing, but it took the perfect opportunity for me to act.

That perfect opportunity coincided with an exceptional mentor, he said. Lynne Formato, an associate professor of performing arts, has been an invaluable guide, someone Staskel calls “a pillar of musical theatre knowledge.”

Formato said she is continually impressed with the Lumen Scholar.

“Chris is wonderful,” Formato said, “He’s an amazing young artist. He’s so facile in so many aspects – actor, singer and dancer. He’s wise beyond his years, and it has been a great joy to work with him.”

The Lumen Prize provides selected students with a scholarship to support and celebrate their academic achievements and research proposals.

Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete projects. Efforts include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development, and creative productions and performances.

The name for the Lumen Prize comes from Elon's historic motto, “Numen Lumen,” Latin words for “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

At Elon, Staskel is part of Technical Difficulties, the university's improv troupe. His past performances in the Department of Performing Arts include: Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins, Tobias in Sweeney Todd, and Gremio in Kiss Me, Kate.

Formato said she believes Staskel’s future in theatre will be bright and that the Lumen project fits nicely in the mosaic of his already impressive career. What’s more, it showcases his versatility as a music theatre major.

“His biggest challenge will be deciding what pathway to take at any given moment,” Formato said with a smile. “Chris has multiple gifts. He will have a great career.”

The son of Ron and Cathy Staskel of Charlotte, Staskel’s graduation from Elon University looms in the not-so-distant future. After Elon, he plans to apply to a two-year graduate program at New York University, and to stay in the city afterward to work as an actor and writer. For now, though, he turns his attention to the present – completing his Lumen project.

“Everyone in the department is very excited, so that makes me nervous, too,” he said. "It’s a supportive bunch, so they’re rooting for me. It’ll be nice to put this material on talented people.”

His musical will be performed on campus on April 27 and 29, and May 1, at 7:30 p.m.

To learn more about the Lumen Prize and other undergraduate research opportunities at Elon University, click on the link to the right of this page under E-Cast.

- Daniel Koehler '12, Office of University Relations

Eric Townsend,
12/8/2009 11:22 AM