New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Beyond NYU: Making musicals come to life in the Midwest

Steinhardt alum Kelsey McDaniel is taking her passion for musical theater across the country by creating her own production company in Indianapolis.
NYU Steinhardt alum Kelsey McDaniel. (Courtesy photo by Darnell Bennett)

From taking part in competitive dancing as a kid to later discovering the world of theater in high school, Steinhardt alum Kelsey McDaniel’s love for musical performance began early in life. Her passion for theater and music led her to study vocal performance with a concentration in musical theater at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music in spring 2023.

The summer before her senior year at NYU, McDaniel created Fast Apple Artists, a production company based in Indianapolis that strives to create more performance opportunities in the Midwestern city. She had the idea to create the company after taking the class Devising the Musical in her junior year, where she collaborated with other NYU students to write a full-length musical comedy called “Damnation! The Musical.”

In an interview with WSN, McDaniel spoke about her start in theater, creating her own production company and her hopes for the company’s future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did Devising the Musical inspire you to create your own company? 

McDaniel: It was the first spark that helped me leap into creating my own things because I enjoyed it so much. It was probably my favorite class I took at NYU and it happened to be a one-time thing because of COVID-19. Once we got back to the city, everyone in the class decided that they wanted to do it in-person and re-workshop this thing that we did for a class. We ended up putting on the musical live and in person the next year in a little theater in the city called the Kraine Theater, and we sold out for our two performances.

Although McDaniel had a history in musical performance in her small town of Robinson, Illinois, she saw herself pursuing dentistry in college. She decided to apply to both dentistry colleges and theater programs, and ended up applying early decision to NYU, where she was accepted into Steinhardt’s vocal performance program.

After completing her junior year, McDaniel decided to take a gap semester in the fall of 2021 because she felt as if she had “fallen out of love” with acting because of the restrictions during the pandemic. During that time, she returned home and became highly involved in community theater in Indianapolis. McDaniel returned to NYU for the spring of 2022, and that summer, she started her production company, Fast Apple Artists.

WSN: What led you to create Fast Apple Artists?

McDaniel: When I first started school, I thought I was going to live in New York City forever and I wanted to be on Broadway. That is still a dream, but I am so happy doing shows in Indianapolis. I love community theater; the Indianapolis theater community is so special. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done, and it’s very different from the theater scene in New York City. People here are doing it because they love to do it. It doesn’t feel like they have to, and that’s a very different kind of energy when you walk into a rehearsal room. 

Fast Apple Artists’ first performance was a production of the musical “Heathers” put on by a small team of McDaniel’s friends in the summer of 2022. McDaniel’s second performance was a production of “Spring Awakening” which was accomplished with a staff of around 30 people including an established creative and technical team that McDaniel plans to continue to work with moving forward.

WSN: How did you get Fast Apple Artists rolling? 

McDaniel: I decided to put on “Heathers” because that was a show my friends and I had always dreamt about doing on our own. I raised some money, I got sponsors, I wore the hat of every role of a whole production company in the first show. I was the producer, calling myself the creative director, and I directed the show as well as starred in it as Veronica. I did costumes — I literally did it all.

McDaniel is currently in the process of rebranding and revamping her company, starting with a name change in the next couple weeks from Fast Apple Artists to the Fifth Wall Theater Company. McDaniel and her team are also planning fundraising concerts in the coming months to raise money for large-scale projects she hopes to accomplish in the future. She also has plans to partner with local organizations and deepen the company’s connection to the Indianapolis community. McDaniel will open up auditions to the public for the first time for the next show, which she hopes will be a production of the musical “Hair.” 

WSN: What are your hopes for the future of your company?

McDaniel: Now that I have more of an established team and we’ve done a couple of productions, I now see more of a clear vision of where we are going and where the whole team would like the company to go, in regards to the types of shows we’re doing and how we’re doing them. Moving forward, we really want to continue to pick shows that are gonna kind of push the envelope a little bit — make people think and go beyond what they know. As actors, we always talk about breaking the fourth wall. We decided to change the name of the company to “Fifth Wall” because we want to go beyond that and make people go beyond what they already know and believe, and go outside the box.

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Aashna Miharia
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.

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