"It’s not easy having mermaids on stage”

UM News, 11-12-2019

Griffin Berkenfeld, a University of Miami senior and director of CaneStage’s upcoming production of “The Little Mermaid,” gives a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to lead the beloved Disney classic
Griffin Berkenfeld, far left, guides "The Little Mermaid" cast members in one of their final choreography rehearsals before the big weekend.


When he was just 12 years old, Griffin Berkenfeld attended a sleep-away camp where he performed in his first show ever. Almost a decade and many productions later, he prepares to see his latest work come full circle as director for CaneStage Theatre Company’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

As a student organization and committee of Hurricane Productions, CaneStage helps to foster a confidence-building environment for students to learn from one another and get involved in all facets of performing arts including directing, choreographing, acting, and tech-ing. While he has always had a passion for musical theater, Berkenfeld's first few years at the University of Miami were spent studying motion pictures and marketing. He declared his theater minor during his junior year and was encouraged to apply to CaneStage by a friend. Now in his senior year, Berkenfeld will be the director for the Disney classic.

“I was focused on film, but I missed musicals,” he said. “I wasn’t sure about applying but my friend insisted and told me to see what happens, so I did. In my meeting with the CaneStage chair, Kerra Masso, we talked over my vision for the show and my experience. A week and a half later, I found out I got the role.”

Berkenfeld quickly began delving into the show by reading over the script and scores and watching other productions of “The Little Mermaid” online. Rehearsals began in September with two to three meetings a week as the cast worked through the script one scene, song, and dance at a time.

CaneStage hosts two shows each semester, so all the work that goes into a single production takes place within a short time frame. For a student director, that means always staying three steps ahead of the rest of your crew.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Berkenfeld said. “There are many aspects to it and you have to know it all before the cast does. If someone asks you a question about what happens next, you have that answer ready.”

Part of this responsibility also means putting in more work outside of rehearsal time. Berkenfeld is also always re-reading the script, marking it up, and organizing spreadsheets. But he says it’s all worth it because he’s passionate about his work.

“Being a director has taught me to plan and become more organized with the way I structure things. If we don’t plan, then we wouldn’t get anything accomplished in our rehearsals. Planning is key.”

CaneStage Theatre Company has become another support system for students to develop their skills while balancing their academic careers by creating an accommodating rehearsal schedule so that members can still go to class and have time for homework and studies.

“Our personal mission is to create an inclusive environment where everyone who enjoys theatre has an opportunity to participate, regardless of experience, major and background,” said Kerra Masso, UM junior and CaneStage chair. “For students like Griffin, myself and everyone else who works with us, this is an opportunity for self-expression you can’t find anywhere else on campus.”

“Our cast has been putting in a tremendous amount of work into the show and they are so crazy talented that I’m blown away every single rehearsal,” Berkenfeld adds. “It’s not easy having mermaids on stage, but I think we accomplish that well. It’s going to be a spectacle you won’t want to miss – it’s Disney magic.”

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and all other CaneStage Theatre Company productions are free for UM students, faculty, and staff. Showtimes are November 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. and November 16 at 4 p.m. at the Bill Cosford Cinema. For more details, visit “The Little Mermaid” Facebook event page.