On Friday evening, All Campus Theatre will present "Deck'd" at 8 p.m. at The Wesley Foundation United Methodist University Center.
This show is different than most — it's directed by a student.
Ben Murphy, sophomore in journalism and electronic media, joined All Campus Theatre as a freshman. When he found out that four shows are selected to be student-directed each year, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
The idea began when Murphy was in high school, when he first saw the "Deck'd" YouTube series produced by Dominic Fera. Fera, then a high school senior, performed in and scored the videos, which gained over 200,000 views.
Fera's work won the audience awards at NFFTY (National Film Festival for Talented Youth) two years in a row with "Deck'd" and "Deck'd 2." He started and runs DFear Studios, a YouTube channel with more than 200,000 subscribers.
"He's someone I looked up to as a bit of an idol because he's a few years older than me and he's a really good filmmaker and creator of original stuff," Murphy said.
Murphy contacted Fera and asked to adapt his series into an onstage musical. A freshman at New York University, Fera declined, saying he did not have the time. It wasn't until last semester that the two began to collaborate.
The musical tells the story of Peter Bell, a festive high school student who loves Christmas. His passion for Christmas subjects him to bullying from family, friends and a neighborhood thug. Fortunately, Peter soon finds himself on Santa's cheer-bringing team. He must lift a young girl's spirit, deal with rebellious angels and find the true meaning of Christmas before he forgets what it's all about.
Story-telling is what attracted Murphy to theatre in the first place.
"I got my start in elementary school and then I did some throughout middle school, but it really started impacting my life in high school," he said. "Me and my friends got really involved in video and theatre and acting and just the experience of working with media and performing it."
"Deck'd" is Murphy's first chance to direct a musical. He directed two plays while attending Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Tenn.
"The best part is creating a story and working with people that are fun and energetic and excited to bring their creativity to a project. It's just so rewarding to work with people who come to rehearsal and are excited everyday and are willing to be right there with you to create this kind of story," Murphy said. "The story we are creating is very comical and a little bit tongue-in-cheek."
Caleb Cook, freshman in theatre, plays the lead role of Tyler Bell. The part is his first big lead.
"Peter is a good character in that he has a lot going on," Cook said. "He's fun to play because he grows over the course of the play. That was really fun to capture."
To get in touch with his role, Cook watched the YouTube videos and tried to truly understand Bell's psyche.
"What I usually do with my characters is to just try to empathize with them as if they were real people," he said.
The Christmas spirit of the show's protagonist seems to have rubbed off on Cook.
"It's got a good message that's very pertinent this time of year. It's something that a lot of people could get into and relate to. A lot of us get bogged down with all the other things about Christmas, the shopping and the glitz. We forget how rewarding it is just to step back and be with people who are important to us."
Tickets are $3 for students and faculty and $5 for general admission and are sold at the door. The curtains open at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.