“Quiet on stage!” Brownwood High School Director of Theatre Shannon Lee called out as members of the large ensemble cast, unseen behind a curtain, prepared to resume rehearsals on a recent evening.
At the high school’s Dorothy McIntosh Fine Arts Center, cast and crew have been rehearsing for the theatre department’s production of “Newsies,” a joyous, high-energy song-and-dance musical inspired by actual events in 1899.
Set around the Newsboys Strike in 1899 in New York City, “Newsies” is based on a 1992 musical that also opened on Broadway. Audiences will be treated to strong, splendid vocal performances and whirling and twirling, how’s-that-again high kicking, high stepping dance moves, including tap dancing.
Cast and crew began working on “Newsies” over the summer with numerous behind-the-scenes tasks including set building, choreographing of dance moves by student choreographers and the making of costumes by Lee’s daughter, freshman Lilly Lee, who has a small speaking part in the play.
“We’ve got some interesting people here,” Shannon Lee said of her young actors and crew. “One thing I’ll say about kids, and honestly, kids in general. I think a lot of times, kids these days kind of get a bum rap for being stuck on their phone and being the video game generation, and not being able to focus and accomplish anything.
“I will tell you, there’s not ever a time that I ask them to do something that it doesn’t get done. I honestly believe that when you have high expectations for kids, inevitably, every single time, they will rise to it. When I get to look at a show like this, and how hard they work, and every single one of them keep up their grades. We’ve got Lion Crew members, we’ve got varsity football players, we have cheerleaders, we have band members, we have varsity choir kids, we have key clubbers. When you bring them all together and teach them they can work together for a common goal, magic happens. This is a magical show, and I’m proud of their hard work and their dedication.”
Several cast and crew members sat in the auditorium on a recent morning and spoke with the Bulletin, and all responded with a resounding “Yes!” when asked if preparing for the play has consumed their lives.
“The biggest thing is knowing not only how to balance this, but to balance it with … we’re all full time athletes, students, cheerleaders, everything,” said cast member Caitlin Tucker, a junior. “It’s just a balance that we have to figure out that we learn, and use later in our lives, hopefully.”
When asked if it’s hard to leave their characters behind after leaving the stage, cast member Josh Lawson, a senior, replied, “Accents are really hard to drop. I’ll be in class and I’ll speak like a New Yorker every day.”
Senior Sarah Boyette said, “I think we take parts of our character with us. Each character I play, I always have a part of. Medda is very sassy. I think after everything is done, I kind of have to calm down.”
Boyette, who helped choreographed dance moves, was referring to her show persona of “Newsies” character Medda Larken. Boyette said she loves seeing the finished product on stage and realizes “that’s the hard work we just did. It’s amazing.”
Another question for cast and crew: is it as much fun to perform in the play as it is to watch?
“Because it is such an impactful show, being an actor in it just really makes you feel like you have that power to do whatever you can,” Tucker said. “Hopefully, everyone in the audience, whenever we perform it, is going to feel the same way. It’s going to be great.”
Lee reminded her actors of a recent rehearsal, when the handful of observers watching the rehearsal reacted with laughter, cheers and applause.
“What do you think that noise is going to be like when it’s 500 people?” Lee asked.
“Exhilarating,” a cast member replied.
“There’s going to be so much ‘oomph,’” Tucker said.
Junior Jordan Roberts said audience reaction will “help us be better on stage. The way the audience reacts — it gives me so much more energy on stage, and I think we can all attest to that. The audience plays a huge role in the show. The energy that they give off to us, we will portray right back to them, 10 times more.”
When asked why they believe fine arts is important to education, Lawson said performing in theatre “does something special to you. It gets you to open up and be someone you never thought you’d really be. It just makes you become more social and more excited and more involved in life that you really thought you would ever be. It does so much for you.”
Roberts said, “you look at our character and you see a little piece of us in them. Each character rubs off on you a little bit, in a good way. It teaches you confidence. It teaches you how to stand up for yourself.”