Harvard Leaders of the Week

For this edition of Leader of the Week, we spoke with the founders of Harvard College Musical Theater, Chris Lee ’18 and Caro Ribeiro ’18. Chris is an Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology concentrator and Caro is a Sociology concentrator, both in Kirkland House. Harvard College Musical Theater is a student group dedicated to producing musical theater on campus, open to performers, musicians, designers, technicians, and all interested. The group sponsors at least one musical as well as smaller performances each semester. | Photo (above) by Ben Grimm.

What inspired you to create the Harvard College Musical Theater?

Caro: There’s recently been a lot of discussion in the theater community regarding the lack of musical theater opportunities on campus. I’ve noticed that student directors tend to shy away from musicals, and even when they do try to put on musicals, there are a lot of technical challenges that they face. I wanted to create an organization that would guarantee at least one musical per semester and provide students with the technical knowledge necessary to produce musical theater. With the arrival of the Theater, Dance, and Media concentration, we are seeing an influx of students interested in musical theater, so I really think this is the perfect moment for an organization like this.

What goals do you have for the organization, or what is its mission?

Caro Ribeiro '18 performs in Wastelanders.

Caro Ribeiro ’18 performs the lead in Wastelanders. Ribeiro has gone on to direct two shows at Harvard since then.

Caro and Chris: First and foremost, we want to support and promote musical theater on campus by producing at least one full-length show each semester along with a small-scale cabaret performance. We also want to foster the development of student-written work. Furthermore, we are hoping to collaborate with the dance and music communities in our productions.

Tell me a little more about the shows you both have worked on at Harvard.

Caro: Chris and I first worked with each other when I played the lead in the First-Year Musical. After that, I directed Clybourne Park in collaboration with BlackCAST’s production of A Raisin in the Sun. That was such a memorable experience because I got to work with an amazing group of artists to produce two plays about racism in the United States. I also directed In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, which is a comedy about women, sexuality, and the invention of the vibrator. For Vibrator, Chris and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to incorporate music into the show. Chris wrote a beautiful melody that we weaved throughout the play to evoke a sense of love and longing. We also made it snow onstage, which was awesome.

Chris: I first got involved with theater at Harvard through the First-Year Musical, which I co-composed and music directed. Since then, I have worked with Caro on every show she has directed. I sound designed Clybourne Park and composed original music for In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. In addition, I have also worked on Nine, SKETCH, Soundbytes, and Another Sky. Because there are so few musicals performed, I have had to find other ways of being a part of theater, so I’ve done a lot of sound designing. This is disappointing because I got involved in theater through music, so I’m hoping to be able to go back to music directing soon.

You both have served as director/music director of shows at Harvard previously. What did you learn from those leadership positions that have helped you found and run a student organization?

Caro: As the director of a student show and the leader of a student organization, I think it’s important not to take everything too seriously. At the end of the day, I do theater because it’s fun, but if it gets to be overly stressful, it stops being fun. I’ve also learned that when challenges arise, it’s important to remain calm and pragmatic. Tech week is always difficult no matter what show you’re doing, and as a director, I think my role is to remain poised and calm. That sets an example for everyone else involved and makes it easier for people to do their jobs. I really believe that cooler heads prevail.

Chris Lee ’18 (fourth from left) poses with the musicians of Wastelanders, a musical he music directed.

Chris: Being a music director taught me to listen to people. Maybe that’s because I’m a music director, and being a music director is literally all about listening. If you listen to others, people will take you more seriously and be more willing to listen to you in return. When people in leadership positions are inflexible, the show does not do well.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years, and where do you hope the Harvard College Musical Theater is in 10 years?

Caro: In 10 years, I would love to be working in entertainment somehow, but it’s a tough industry. I’m hoping to get some business skills under my belt first and then maybe start my own theater company. If that doesn’t work out, I could also see myself working as a media executive or artistic director somewhere. I hope by then HCMT is widely-recognized at Harvard as the primary producer of musical theater on campus. It would be great for the organization to get to a point where it can support at least three musicals a semester, in addition to holding regular workshops, cabarets, and other special events.

Chris: I’ll probably be in fellowship for medical training, hopefully in pediatrics. In addition to that, I hope to be able to write original music/musical theater in some capacity. In 10 years, I want HCMT to have the same legitimacy as other theater organizations on campus, such as Hyperion and G&S. I hope the organization will have premiered at least one full-length student-written show by then.

Photos courtesy Caro Ribeiro and Chris Lee. 

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