by Heidie (Raine) Senseman
Gabe Cherry ’24 opens the Elliv Board of Directors meeting with an announcement: “We hit our 300th to-do list task for Elliv this week!”
The whole room cheers. Most clap, and one slaps his hands against the table. Two high-five.
Cherry nods to the screen at the front of the conference room where he’s projecting the 2023 Elliv to-do list. Color coded tasks and deadlines fill the page: Open Talent Auditions — Nov. 29, Song List Approved — Jan. 16, Send Acceptance/Rejection Emails — Jan. 20, Record Scratch Demos — Feb. 27, Send Backing Tracks to Productive Services —Mar. 6.
By the end of the meeting, the number of tasks has risen to 314.
“I’ll be looking through the system to check on everyone’s to-do’s this week, so make sure you update those,” Cherry adds. “Keep up the great work. The show is only six weeks away!”
Early Preparation and Life as SGA Director
Elliv is Cedarville’s annual live, student-run talent and awards show. With musical acts, student awards, costumes, jokes, and so much more, Elliv is not just any event on campus. It is THE event of the year. Not surprisingly, it requires such extensive planning that preparations for the next year’s show begin before the current year’s show debuts.
Elliv is a byproduct of hours of hard work by the Student Government Association (SGA) Events Director. Early each spring semester, applications open for the following year’s SGA positions. The SGA Events Director, one such position, carries the responsibility of planning three major campus events: Mission Impossible, a high-energy campuswide scavenger hunt in the fall semester; Live@10, a Saturday Night Live-style show during the chapel hour in the fall semester; and Elliv.
Cherry was hired as the 2022–2023 SGA Event s Director in early April 2022 and quickly got to work. He
spent that April shadowing Nicole Seagraves ’22, the 2022 SGA Events Director, to learn how to manage rehearsals, organize tasks, pick a theme, select a Board of Directors, and much more.
“I sat in on last year’s tech and dress rehearsals and just took it all in,” Cherry said. “It was intimidating. I realized how massive of a task I had ahead of me as the next Elliv director.”
Cherry averaged 10 to 12 hours of work a week, but in the weeks leading up to major events, he easily doubled or tripled that number. The week of Live@10, Cherry clocked 32 hours in addition to his typical academic courseload. The week of Elliv was close to a 40-hour work week.
Cherry also worked closely with Brian Burns ’95, Director of Campus Experience, and Jon Wood, Vice President for Student Life and Christian Ministries. Burns is more involved in the day-to-day planning process, whereas Wood handles tasks like song and script approval.
“Brian and I have biweekly meetings to track planning progress, but I probably ask him a question two or three times a week,” Cherry explained. “I really lean into his leadership.”
Board of Directors
Selecting a Board of Directors is perhaps the most important task for any Elliv Director. While exact roles may evolve from year to year, the Board typically includes a Logistics Director, Wardrobe Director, Marketing Director, Awards Director, Script Director, and Music Director. Cherry began pulling together his Board of Directors in early October 2022, nearly seven months before the 2023 show. The Board begins meeting weekly at the start of the spring semester to brainstorm, troubleshoot, track progress, and share planning updates.
“The first thing I want to make clear about leading Elliv is that I don’t do it alone,” Cherry shared. “I get too much credit for the show. Sure, I’m signing off on decisions, but a lot of people beyond just me are doing the work.”
In those months leading up to the show, the Elliv Script Director works with his committee to write every word that is said on the Elliv stage. In weekly writing sessions, the team develops jokes and skits similar in concept to Saturday Night Live.
Another key figure, the Music Director, works with the SGA Events Director to select songs with that year’s theme in mind. Tim Craig ’23, this year’s music director, was especially busy because the 2023 “Illuminate”-themed show featured 116 musical participants — more than ever before. Craig managed 11 acts that collectively contained 16 songs, three mashups, a 30-person symphony, a choir double the size of last year’s, and an encore. Each act has a distinct style guide put together by the Wardrobe Director and his committee.
The Awards Director works with his committee to develop Elliv’s award show elements, creating awards like the Salt and Light Award to honor students who selflessly serve those around them and the Wingman Award to recognize an excellent friend on campus. Historically, the awards committee has painted and distributed small rocks —modeled after the Cedarville Rock — to the winners during the show.
Elliv’s Board of Directors builds the show’s concepts and content, but Elliv wouldn’t be possible without Production Services Group (PSG) staff and student workers.
“You can’t overemphasize the work they do,” Cherry said.
Each year, spring chapel concludes the Wednesday before Elliv so that on Thursday and Friday, PSG members can set the stage. Steve Brock ’93, Assistant Director for Live Production, has been the mastermind behind Elliv’s stage design and lighting for several years.
Elliv’s audio, lights, and backstage communications have historically been led by a full-time Cedarville staff member, but for the 2023 performance, a student — Evan Warner ’24 — ran the front-of-house booth for the show.
Dave Hoecke ’90, Cedarville’s Media Production and Distribution Coordinator, assisted with audio, Andrew Glessner ’24 managed video recording, and Jen Kroyer ’24 managed the stage crew.
Behind the Curtain: The Final Rehearsals
In the days leading up to this top-secret show, Elliv participants are sprinting to make final touches. They’re setting the stage, finalizing click tracks, programming patches for pedal boards and pianos, reviewing scripts, and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing.
Tech rehearsal takes place the Thursday before Elliv from 5 p.m. to curfew. That night, for the first time, all cast and tech members come together in the Jeremiah Chapel to troubleshoot technical issues and bring together the show’s many elements.
This year’s tech rehearsal begins with each musical act taking the stage to adjust their in-ear monitor mixes. In-ears are special headphones that allow musicians to single out and adjust the volume of individual instruments according to their needs. At Elliv’s tech rehearsal, this “mixing” looks like one musician playing their instrument while every other musician points up or down to signal their volume preferences to the sound technician.
While these in-ear mixes get set, other members of PSG are testing staging elements: lowering lampshades from the catwalks to practice for one act’s “floating lamps” visual, using special GAFF stage tape to secure musical cables, and re-setting orchestra seats.
At the same time, castmates whose acts are not actively rehearsing sit in the chapel’s seats, eat snacks from the Elliv “food room” across the hall, and cheer for the musician actively testing their parts. The acts run through each song twice after finalizing their in-ear mixes.
When Caroline Canning ’25 sings a whistle note in her group’s first run-through of The Climb by Miley Cyrus, the whole audience of castmates screams and applauds.
“I'm so excited,” Cherry says to a group of castmates, “because I know that the applause will be 2,000 times that on the actual night of Elliv.”
During each act, Craig works with Cherry and Burns to make staging decisions. Craig waves guitarists further up the stage and encourages act members to be expressive in their performances.
“You look about 80% smaller on stage, so you have to act 90% bigger,” Craig says.
The tech rehearsal doesn’t include all choreographed elements, but the musicians tend to mark out their larger movements. Some musicians, though, perform all out even during tech runs. Paige Senseman ’24 struts down from her platform for an electric guitar solo center stage. Tim Barnes ’24 dances his way to the front of the stage as the buzz of his harmonica hits the mic.
Meanwhile, members of the script writing committee work in the wings of the chapel stage with Elliv's hosts, Caleb Stechschulte ’23 and Haven Sidell ’23. Another skit member is costumed as a tree, her arms out to the side in large “branch” tubes as the trio practices delivering one of the 2023 skits: a rendition of American poet Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” retitled “O Possum! My Possum!" in reference to a day in early February when Cedarville students gathered around a tree near the Centennial Library to observe a large opossum climbing through the tree’s branches.
The doors to the chapel remain locked for the whole evening to prevent students from peering in.
“We don’t even want to prop the doors for quick snack runs or bathroom breaks,” Burns reminds the cast midway through rehearsal. “We need to preserve the magic for the night of the show.”
The evening after tech rehearsal, everyone returns to the chapel at 5 p.m. for dress rehearsal to run through the show twice, with no interruptions, as if they were performing in front of a live audience. This is the last opportunity for Elliv members to troubleshoot problems and refine their performance.
After Carissa Johnson ’23, Emily Campbell ’24, and Noelle Norman ’23 finish the first run through of their Adele mashup, they decide to eliminate elbow-high white gloves from their costume, leaving them in black gowns and pearls.
During the next act — a rendition of What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction — the vocalists have issues with the timekeeping “click” that plays in the background of everyone’s in-ear mix.
“Was stage presence there?” Cherry asks, out of breath from having just sang and danced for the high-energy act. “My ears were off.” Then, midway through the encore, Kroyer runs on stage to coil a loose cable that a musician had almost tripped over. These issues can feel discouraging, but the dress rehearsal helps castmates identify and solve them before the live performance.
After the first run through, Burns and Mindy May, Associate Vice President of Student Development and Dean of Students, call each act to the front of the chapel individually to give performance notes: Interact more with the soloists. Great job on the piano slides. Try not to play with your in ears. Make your claps bigger. Freeze when the lights go black.
With these performance notes in mind, the cast resets to begin their final run-through.
Nerves are high. The energy, despite the late night, electrifies the room.
Everyone leaves at curfew, knowing that the next time they reconvene, it’ll be showtime.
The Heart Behind the Show
Why dedicate over a year of preparation time, thousands of dollars, and an incalculable amount of creative energy to one Elliv performance?
For Cherry, Elliv is much more than a show — it’s an opportunity to edify and encourage the student body.
“Every time we’re planning an event in Campus Experience, we ask ourselves, ‘why are we doing this?’” Cherry explained. “For Elliv, the answer is simple. We want to give people an opportunity to celebrate the student body.”
The last campuswide event before graduation, Elliv provides a final opportunity for students to make a memory together. And students continually flock toward the opportunity, with hundreds applying to participate and even more buying tickets to attend.
“The student interest and participation put it in perspective for me,” Cherry shared. “It’s such a big deal that people want to do this. I think we all feel the community Elliv creates.”
And indeed, after months of meetings, brainstorming sessions, and rehearsals, Elliv’s preparations culminate in that one moment. The lights dim, the curtains pull back, the music track clicks, and the mics raise.
It’s show time.