‘The Tender Land’ cast brings the Great Depression to life on stage

Jonathan VanKuren (Senior, Vocal Performance) leads the cast of The Tender Land in an exciting performance for the opera opening this Friday night in Waller Hall Mainstage. (Karen Plate/The Penn)

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With the help of her cast and crew, Tania Coambs directs four performances of “The Tender Land” Thursday through Sunday in Waller Hall.

“The Tender Land” is an opera written by Aaron Copland that follows the story of Laurie Moss and Martin. The play is set in the Midwest in the 1930s during the height of the Great Depression. Martin starts working for Laurie’s family on their farm, and the two of them begin to grow close. He is a drifter and she is a soon-to-be high school graduate. Ultimately, this means Laurie has a big choice to make – she can either stay at home on the farm living the only life she’s ever known or leave with Martin.

Coambs is the the director of opera and musical theater in the music department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She explained why she chose to put “The Tender Land” on for the IUP students and faculty.

“I was drawn to this story because it is something that most college students can relate to: having to make choices about what to do with their lives, thinking about leaving home for the first time and breaking away from the things that maybe their parents want for them, but what they themselves don’t want,” Coambs said. “The plot, coupled with the beautiful and luscious melodies that Copland writes, really creates a captivating piece that we are excited and proud to present.”

The cast is made up mostly of students at IUP who auditioned last spring and spent the summer learning their songs. However, not every member of the cast is a student. For example, the character of Grandpa Moss is played by Dr. Curt Scheib, who is an IUP alumus.

Coambs talked about what it was like to work with Dr. Scheib.

“He has been a joy to work with,” she said, “and it has been wonderful for the students to get a chance to work with professional in the field.”

For a lot of the students involved, it is their first time even performing in an opera. For the others, such as some of the principal characters, it is their first time singing in a full-length opera.

Meagan Shaw (senior, music) is one of those students. She plays Ma Moss. She described what is like to go from being a musician to an opera singer and actress.

“Participating in the show is a great experience,” Shaw said. “This is definitely out of my comfort zone, since I am a trumpet major. I have learned so much about singing and acting over the semester. The biggest challenge for me was putting a lot of emotion into my acting. I have not acted in a very long time.”

Shaw went on to talk of her overall experience of what it has been like to work on this show for the past semester and about her time working with the rest of the cast.

“Overall, it was a lot of hard, tiring work,” she said, “but I have gained so much from it. I cannot wait to perform in front of a real audience. As for the cast, they are wonderful.
We have such a fun group participating. We all get along very well. I have also made a lot of close friends during the show.”

There are three more performances of the show, which will be Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for regular admission, $15 for senior citizens and $12 for I-Card holders, students and children.