THE FOUNDING OF FIRST YEAR PLAYERS
At the University of Virginia, first-year students often find it difficult to become involved with theatrical productions in the Drama Department. In these productions, first-years must compete against upperclass drama majors - and even graduate students - for acting roles. In the spring of 1977, with the urge to provide first-year students with their own spotlight, University of Virginia campus minister Ed Golden cast first-years in a performance of the musical Godspell at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. The show was a tremendous success, representing the first unofficial production by the student theater group that would become First Year Players (FYP).
Though he personally was not a performer, Ed Golden loved theater and knew it could be a positive, creative outlet for first-year students who may be unable to get involved elsewhere at the University. He also recognized that a student-run group would provide artistic and leadership opportunities for upperclassmen. When Golden became Assistant Dean of Students for the First Year Residence Life Program in 1980, he recruited students Cathy Cannon and Bonnie Gelazek to formally lead an organization that would produce a musical each spring. The group First Year Players was officially formed in 1981. Featuring a cast of first-years and performing mainly in the U.Va. Law School auditorium, FYP's early productions included Guys & Dolls, Brigadoon, and Fiddler on the Roof.
Golden left U.Va. in 1985 and eventually became Vice President for Student Affairs at Syracuse University, where he founded another branch of First Year Players in the 1990s. At the University of Virginia, the original FYP group became an entirely student-run Contracted Independent Organization (CIO), producing one musical every semester in the Student Activities Building. Productions have ranged from classics such as Damn Yankees and Grease to less traditional shows such as Sugar, Big River, and Victor/Victoria.
FIRST YEAR PLAYERS TODAY
Currently in its fifth decade, First Year Players is the oldest student-run theater organization at the University of Virginia. FYP remains true to Golden's vision with a two-pronged mission: to provide the U.Va. community with quality musical theater, and to create an artistic, supportive atmosphere for first-year students and new transfers. Although the cast is still entirely composed of first-years, FYP incorporates students of all ages and interests: student technicians, directors, musicians, and administrators work year-round to raise funds, produce shows, and manage the organization. The many different areas of FYP - cast, staff, tech, and pit - come together every semester to form one dedicated, talented family.
Historic events have proven that the spirit of First Year Players is indomitable. In the early morning hours of March 31, 1998, the group encountered a daunting situation. In the Student Activities Building (SAB), where all FYP shows are performed, a water pipe pulled out of the wall, flooding the entire building. FYP could have lost all of its sets, costumes, props, and electronics, but luck spared most FYP property from damage. Still, repairs to the SAB would be devastatingly expensive, and FYP was expected to cover them. But despite this potentially demoralizing setback, as soon as the organization had permission to re-enter the building, every FYP member began working tirelessly to ensure that the show - Guys & Dolls - could open as planned. On the evening of final dress rehearsal, an unexpected donation from the Z Society appeared at the door, sparing FYP from spending all of its savings and show proceeds on the SAB repairs. Through the determination of the cast, staff, and tech crew - combined with the generosity of the Z Society - First Year Players triumphed. Even thousands of gallons of water could not wash away the dedication and spirit of FYP.