It’s easy to find the cast of Rocky River High School’s spring musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Just follow the music floating through the school’s halls, or the girls with the goldfish.
The students, during a recent visit, were putting the finishing touches on vocals for the play, which runs April 14-16. Drama teacher Jennifer Garver said the next step would be combining the singing with choreography at the following day’s practice. The cast and crew members agreed the process is fun, and they make it look effortless – but there is a lot that goes on before the stage lights come up.
“It’s an eight-week schedule, with auditions beginning in February, ” said Garver, in her eighth year of teaching drama, English and broadcasting. A total of 60 students in grades 9 through 12 are involved with the production, including 30 cast members, 15 pit orchestra musicians and 15 stage crew workers. In addition, there are professionals such as vocal director Hilary Etheart, who was working with the cast this day, plus a choreographer, orchestra conductor and technical director.
Garver explained that a theatrical production is built first by working on isolated scenes and “blocking,” where actors learn their places and cues with no music. She said this process is alternated in practice with vocals and choreography. Everything is put together about three weeks before the curtain goes up. Senior Allison Morse, female lead and veteran of eight high school plays, said that this is the most trying time.
“The worst part is the tension about a month before the show. We all kind of get on each other,” she said.
“It will have its kinks, but it will all work out,” stated Garver.
Junior Christina Conway, stage manager for the production, is getting a good look at what she is considering as a career. “I like to be involved with the production and meet new people. I like building stuff, and the people involved are awesome to be around,” she stated.
As “the boss” of the show, she said she usually doesn’t leave school until 6:30 or 7:30 p.m., alternating her duties between set construction and working with the cast. “I’m good friends with everyone involved, so I don’t have to be mean,” she said.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” may seem like an unusual choice for a high school production. The musical comedy is based on a 1988 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as two con artists who ply their trade on the French Riviera.
“I try to pick different shows. Last year we did the more classic ‘Kiss Me Kate.’ Each show is unique and calls for a different style that keeps the students challenged,” said Garver.
Senior Ian Taylor, who plays the Steve Martin character, Freddy Benson, agreed that it’s important to be challenged on stage.
“In the past, I’ve done different personas, but this is more challenging, because it’s closer to my personality,” said Taylor, admitting to being “funny and goofy.” He added that it was a little tougher to be himself on stage, instead of a character.
“I tend to overdo it a little in rehearsal,” he laughed.
A veteran of seven plays, Thomas Moran said that any nerves are forgotten once he hits the stage. “Once you get to perform and put yourself into the role it’s fun,” said the senior, who plays Lawrence Jameson, the suave Michael Cain part. “It’s really cool to get the audience reaction.”
“It’s that ‘whoosh’ of when you’re on stage. It’s like a championship game,” commented junior Tori Titmus, who relates to that comparison. She said she got into acting after tearing her ACL and could no longer compete in soccer and basketball. “I don’t do choir, but I love shows and I love to sing,” she added.
The students bring a wide range of experience to the stage, from 10-year theater veteran Morse to newcomer Jodie Gipson. “I thought it looked like fun, the way everyone bonds together,” said the junior, who admitted to major nerves when auditioning. “It was the first time I sang in front of other people. I was so nervous I was shaking,” she admitted, adding that she would definitely go through it again.
“You start to get your confidence and you know how much work you have to put into it,” added Moran, when asked what his experience has taught him.
Noticing Titmus’s flushed appearance and her request for Garver to feel her forehead to check for a fever, Garver was asked what happens if someone gets sick. The old adage “the show must go on” is not a cliche.
“We usually try to get them on,” she said, adding that there has been an “accident” or two in the past. “They are together so much they know each other’s lines. Someone could step in if they had to.”
One of those adaptations may concern props. Garver explained that the girls with the goldfish found a suitable prop to make Freddy look like he was swallowing a real fish. “We thought about using fishing lures, but the hooks weren’t a good idea,” she said.