MDT Students Workshop New Stage Adaptation of Bestselling Novel ‘Rump’

The MDT student cast helped devise and write the music for the show

BYU’s music dance theatre (MDT) program continues a long tradition of celebrating, exploring and workshopping new work with director Tim Threlfall’s stage adaptation of “Rump.”

The fractured fairy tale is based on MDT alum Liesl Shurtliff’s New York Times bestselling novel and follows a young Rumpelstiltskin as he explores a fantastical world of spells, curses and magical creatures and learns about his own unique abilities — and his famous name. 

“I think that people enjoy stories like this,” said MDT major and cast member Calee Gardner. “Early on in the rehearsal process, we talked about oral storytelling traditions and how those develop and are useful in our modern society. This play is intended for young audiences, but adults will enjoy how creative it is in the retelling of a familiar story.”

As a new Theatre for Young Audiences play still in development, the Nelke Theatre workshop performance is largely experimental for faculty and students in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts

“One of the coolest things is being able to watch the show change during the rehearsal process — seeing them cut certain lines or add new ones and listening to the ideas everyone has,” said Gunnar Russell, who plays the title character. “When I first got the role, it was very daunting to think that I would be originating a role and that I needed to make it my own somehow, but I’ve been able to draw a lot of character background from the script itself.”

In tandem with Threlfall’s script, the student cast helped create sound effects and write original a cappella songs with music director and composer Randy Boothe.

“The most exciting part for me was that we got to devise all the music for the show,” said Gardner. “Not only were we helping create the songs, but also the soundscape of the world. I was able to add my own contributions and ideas, which has helped me be more connected to the story throughout this process.”

Gardner wrote the lyrics for one song and the melodies of two others, including a bluesy take on a musical incantation she herself will perform as the Witch of the Woods. 

“Using the lines of the play and having the Witch sing them with fun riffs and scatting was something that I came up with and pitched to the group,” said Gardner. “It was such a confidence booster when Randy supported me in adding the song to the play.”

As a freshman in the MDT program, “Rump” is one of Russell’s first shows at BYU. He acknowledged that the musical element of the rehearsal process helped push him out of his comfort zone in a way that allowed him to build trust and camaraderie with his fellow performers.

“I don’t have very much experience writing any music, but sometimes I would be asked to think of something on the spot and just hope that it worked,” said Russell. “I learned that it’s OK to put my ideas out there, and I never felt that I would be ridiculed or judged for them. The more time we spent together, the more comfortable we became with pitching our ideas.” 

Gardner is grateful for the chance to be at the forefront of such a unique project during some of its earliest stages of development and to see the thought and heart that go into bringing a story to life.

“Any devising of theatre provides useful skills for students,” said Gardner. “People often ask me what I’m going to do with my major, and I know it’s hard — a lot of people want the job you’re auditioning for — but I’ve been told that if you can always have your own creative projects on the side, then you’ll always feel fulfilled, even if you’re not getting the roles you want. My time working on ‘Rump’ will influence those creative goals for me in the future.”

In connection with the show, Liesl Shurtliff will join BYU English professor Jill Rundy for a discussion about the history of fairy tales and Shurtliff’s writing experience on Dec. 4 from 4-5 p.m. in Wilkinson Student Center 3380. Shurtliff will be available for a book signing and meet and greet after the forum.

Tickets and Show Details

Performance Dates and Times: Dec. 5-7 | 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 7 | 2 p.m.

Location: Nelke Theatre

Price: $6

Tickets: Available in person at the BYU HFAC or Marriott Center Ticket Office, by phone at (801) 422-2981 or online at