BANGS – It doesn't look like it yet, but the Bangs High School auditorium is going to be a real swinging place.
It's going to be a jungle out there.
Under the direction of Billie Harvey, the high school's theatre department is preparing for its fall production of "Tarzan the Stage Musical." Performances will be Nov. 16, 17 and 18.
The stage is bare now as casually dressed cast members are in the early stages of rehearsals, reading their lines from scripts and moving about based on Harvey's frequent instructions. By the time the play is ready for production, the set will consist of scaffolding and platforms covered in vines and jungle trees.
"We will have some swinging and lots of climbing," Harvey said.
If you don't know the full story of Tarzan, it's about a boy raised among wild apes who grows up to become an open-hearted, accomplished and intelligent young man. Naturalist Jane Porter arrives to become Tarzan's love interest.
At a recent rehearsal, cast members – a mix of veterans and newcomers – displayed a mix of enthusiasm, hard work, affection for one another and an appreciation for Harvey, who seems to be not only director but stage mom.
Several cast members talked about the play and described the rewards – and challenges – of performing in a musical.
Jaydon Brandon, a junior, plays ape chorus male soloist.
"It's about this family that tried to live in the jungle," Brandon said of "Tarzan."
"Jaguar, which is Sydney Horton in the musical, kills Tarzan's family. A gorilla named Kala finds Tarzan and takes him in as her own, and Kerchak, which is head of the clan, didn't appreciate it. Tarzan kind of grew up with them and he learned how they lived and how they roll and everything. It's kind of fun, and it's really groovy and it has a very good ending. I love it.
"The hardest thing to me is the audition because you walk in ... my freshman year I was absolutely terrified because I didn't know any of the upper classmen. I was like, they're all going to beat me ... I'm not going to get a part ... nobody's going to like me ... Miss Harvey's not going to like me. I got up and did what I needed to do and I enjoyed it, and I ended up getting a part.
"Some of the kids, you know them, like, they're my classmates, but you don't get to see them in this kind of perspective, and it's kind of great."
"I would say the hardest thing about being in a musical or play is the beginning of it, especially when you're a freshman, " said senior McKenna Meador, a chorus member.
"I've been doing musicals since I got to Bangs. My freshman year I was in 'Little Mermaids.' ... I'm glad that Miss Harvey gave me a part as a lagoon animal. Everyone was better than me, which is something that isn't fun.
"But lemme tell ya ... musicals. They're really fun because you get to make a whole new family by the end of it. In the beginning you're strangers. At the end you're family."
"We're in the very beginning stage, basically finding out stage direction, finding out who's going to be where, what's going to happen," said McKenzie Lucero, a chorus member. "We're finding out our placements, who has to be where and when, and we're also working on memorizing the songs. We're basically finding out all our parts.
"I would say the hardest part about being in a musical for me is probably blocking and choreography. At first it's kind of chaotic so I kind of sit back and watch everybody do it until I can finally join in. In this one we're having to walk like apes, which I'm not very comfortable with, so I'm going to have to practice that. The hardest thing is where you're supposed to be and what you're doing with your body.
"It's really fun. I really like singing. I've always liked acting and doing different voices and stuff, and it kind of does help me because I have very awkward body movements. It's kind of like therapy, I guess, for me."
Junior Corbin Freeland plays Tarzan. "He swings from vines and he acts like a gorilla," Freeland said. "He hasn't had any contact with man. All he knows is being a gorilla.
"The most fun part for me is going up on that stage and being someone you're not. Because theatre isn't a job, it's a vacation."
Brock Bettis plays Kerchak, "the big, bad, tough-loving gorilla that keeps Tarzan and the rest of the apes in check," Bettis said. "We're working on memorizing. We're still on the skeleton stages of the play.
"The hardest part – it's all so overwhelming at first. It seems like an impossible task to learn everything. Everything's being thrown at you, but it all comes together sooner or later. I love doing theatre because of the friendships, the families that are created, the memories that are made.
"I also like making people laugh, making people happy. That's why I do theatre. I love it. I can be as outgoing as I want to be."
Freshman Marina Nichols is performing in her first high school musical.
"It's really scary because you have to learn how to sing and dance, and I feel like I'm not as good as all of these pros by me," Nichols said.
"One of the hardest things in doing musicals and doing plays is remembering," said Junior Solis, who plays Terk.
"You have to remember your lines, you're blocking and the songs."
"I think the worst part about being in a musical is when you actually open the show and then you're so afraid to say your lines in front of all the audience that we have, and then remembering all the lines that you have, which is the hardest part," said Zechariah Fuentes, a senior who is in the gorilla chorus.
"You're off script, you're on the stage and you have music playing. You're like, 'oh my gosh, it's already happening, I don't know what to do.' And then you finally get in the groove of actually being in the play."
"The hardest thing about a musical is getting everybody here," said senior Erika Owen, who plays Kala. "You have to work with volleyball. You have to work with cheer. You have to work with football. You have to work with cross country. You have to work with all these different events and so you barely get any time together.
"The second hardest thing, for me, is hitting the notes. Most of us are inexperienced in singing. Nobody knows really how to sing so you have to focus on looking good, acting while you're singing.
"You have to hit the low notes, you have to hit the high notes ... sometimes you don't hit the same notes. It's different every time, and you have choreography to do in the middle of it.
"You have to memorize the songs, and if you don't memorize the songs, you're sitting there while the music is playing, not knowing your song.
"I like theatre because you get on the stage, and it's like all your worries go away. ... you can be somebody else without people knowing who you are. They only know that person on the stage. ... You go on stage and you give your all until the lights go down and you hear the applause. You just go on the stage and do the absolute best you can."
"I think the hardest thing for me is whenever you have to get in front of people ... because before you start, you notice all the people, and then it's really nerve racking," said junior Abigail Poling, a member of the gorilla chorus.
"But then once you start, you get in to it."
"I love doing theatre. Most of my friends are in theatre," said junior Abby Hailey, who plays Tarzan's human mother and is in the gorilla chorus.
"It allows you to open up, because if you don't, you can't act properly."
"This place is just a very safe environment," said Jordan Castleberry, a junior who is in the gorilla chorus. "No matter what you like, you just feel very safe here and you can be yourself without being criticized.
"It's really nice to be able to relax and see different aspects of yourself that you didn't realize you had before."
"What I personally enjoy about theatre and especially musicals is finding a character, fitting into it like a glove," said Carlos Perkins, a junior who plays the villainous Clayton.
"Sometimes it's a bit harder to get in. But once you get in it, everything just feels right. Once it clicks at the end, that's what I enjoy theatre for."
"I haven't had much experience with musical theatre," said Angie Calfe, a Santa Anna High School student who is appearing in the play as a member of the gorilla chorus.
"My favorite part of it – you get to see how much work is put into it. When you actually have the show, you get to see it all just happen, and that's pretty much my favorite part."
"The thing I like about theatre is, you have to learn so much – especially learning a new accent," said freshman Sara James, who plays Jane. "Especially for Jane, because she's British.
"I like it, because like Erika said, you can turn into a new person. All your worries go away.
"You're there acting with these people, and they're your family. It was really different for me, being a freshman, getting a lead role. I didn't think I'd get it."