Now sing

Now sing

Student productions celebrate the true gifts of theater

WARDSBORO — It's 3:30 p.m., and I'm experiencing a collective malfunction.

My problem? Picture the old trick of “pat your head and rub your tummy.” Multiply it by 10. Speed it up to an eccentric 1980s pop beat. Jump up and down until entirely out of breath.

Now sing.

Welcome to a typical day in the life of Footloose.

Rehearsal begins at 2:35 p.m., usually with a briefing from our fearless leaders, Ann Landenberger and Abby Hadden, who rattle off the list of tasks yet to be done. Still reeling, the troupe trots downstairs for costuming work, set building, and music rehearsal.

For about an hour, we frown at our notes and work to master the show's immense array of numbers under the instruction of our music director, Ron Kelley. Intermittently, the music gives way to sessions of nasally vocal exercises and odd noises as the group strives to learn the art of Broadway-style belting.

Ferreting away notes to work on later, we scamper back up the hill for acting rehearsal with Ms. L.

Channeling a flippant, breezy script, those of us in the cast make ourselves at home with our characters. The task of acting is simple and fun in a show where most of us portray frustrated teens; our daily lives are able to find an outlet onstage.

Finally, Terrie Robinson, our choreographer, arrives, and the cast braces for the grind.

Hurriedly changing into shorts and sweats, we stretch and wait to chip away at yet another of the show's numerous dance numbers. The newest aspect of performance for most of the cast, dance is a weekly challenge, and every minute of rehearsal time is essential.

* * *

Today, we begin a new, extremely complicated number. A turning point in the show, the song “I'm Free” centers around the protagonist convincing his peers of their own power and voice.

As the song builds, our task is to channel all the excited energy of our characters into a masterful dance break, all of our frustrated emotions bursting forth in a flurry of choreography.

Unfortunately, our grace of movement seems to be out of synch with Terrie's grand design. Fumbling through the steps as we watch her feet, the cast is clearly behind the learning curve, but the CD starts, regardless, and we attempt the dance at full speed.

The run-through ends in utter ruin.

As the stubbed toes and hysterical laughter subside, we settle back to work, marking out the choreography at half time and correcting trouble spots as we go. After an hour and a half, we try once again with the CD; yet another collective malfunction occurs.

Overall, however, the dance is smoother.

As we file out the doors, thirsty and exhausted, it's comforting to think that we improved even slightly on our initial disaster.

Despite a long, hectic, yet fun day, we leave, frazzled, but with just a hint of new knowledge.

* * *

I often think that days like these represent the true success of the drama program at Leland & Gray.

Within 15 years, a veritable lifetime of shows, and endless additional hours, the department's accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary.

Every day, when we drama students step into rehearsal, we are not merely working to expand the acting, dance, and music trifecta.

Every day, we also learn the value of hard work and how every minute of performance time has to come from hours of rehearsal, line memorization, and muscle memory.

Every day, we learn that the creation of a show is a team effort, and the glory isn't limited to those under the lights.

On the surface, an audience might exclaim over the talented actors and actresses that grace the stage, but for each of them, there are four others essential to a show's production. Each show also benefits from the efforts of parents, volunteers, teachers, and peers.

After 15 years with Ms. L. at the helm, a scattered and loving program has blossomed into an entity that includes the Friends of the Players, a volunteer group that manages funds, grants, and scholarships, and that provides form to our invaluable volunteer efforts.

Those efforts are the cornerstones of each show.

I may be learning how to belt out songs and shimmy my way around a stage, but many of my friends labor skillfully behind the scenes.

Every area of a production involves student work; never is the opportunity for creative leadership turned down. My peers have designed and built the stage, pieced together costumes, and prowled confidently in the blackness of backstage as they tend to lights, sound, and set changes.

Most students entered the drama program without any of these marketable skills. Sure, they might have been theatrical by nature, or inclined toward backstage genius, but many more were simply looking for a place to fit in.

For every loud and boisterous kid who just has to be an actor, there are so many shy, quiet kids who burst into themselves when given the chance.

That, I believe, is the gift of theater.

* * *

As an art form, theater was never meant to merely entertain; it was also meant to educate. That is what the drama program consists of: a heady, challenging education.

In 15 years of work, the constant evolution of students and teachers, parents, and volunteers has created not only an after-school activity, but an institution.

Together, we've created a community. We've created a place of deeper, different learning, where kids fall in love with characters and challenges - and find a new way to be themselves.

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