From The Classroom: A Peek Backstage

| March 16, 2011
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Hello, Annapolis!

The Key School’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is running from Thursday to Saturday with performances at 7:30 each night. It’s a great show for kids, but the funny bits and delightfully memorable music will appeal to adults.

It’s the most amazing show ever to grace the face of the earth. The cast is having the time of their lives, singing their hearts out and being super talented, the songs are catchy, the script is delightful, the set is vibrant…

I may be a little biased because I’m playing Snoopy, but whatever.

This is so much more than just another high school musical—this is one with which we have a distinct connection. We’re having so much fun with this, loving every second of this, and feeling so natural in this because it’s about something we remember and love—being kids. As actors, especially inexperienced ones, it’s hard to embody a Munchkin or a widow in New Orleans or the King of Siam if you’ve never really been one—but we’ve all been kids and we loved it, and this was, for us, just another trip back to childhood.

Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about by taking you on a backstage tour.

Even though he’s just stepped off of the lacrosse field after a two-and-a-half hour practice, Ben Herndon (Shermy) is getting into character, sharing his brand of toilet humor with a disgusted Katharina Elberti (The little red-haired girl) as we slip on our costumes. Sam Longenecker (Linus) is miming an imaginary gun at Charles Williams (Schroder) as he adjusts his large movie-star sunglasses for the opening. Marlee Fox (Marcie) and Caroline Coccoli (Lucy) are having a completely in-character mock slap fight. Emma Rathmann (Freida), Caitlin McCreight (Pig-Tail Girl), and Lily Cumberpatch (Woodstock) are marveling in childlike wonder at the stage, which is filled with fake fog for my epic dogfight with the red baron. Arran Joyce (Pig-Pen) is hunched over a calc workbook (we can’t all fully get away from reality backstage), Jeff Walter (Charlie Brown), Abby Glime (Sally Brown) and Natalie Belkov (Peppermint Patty) are standing off to the side, having a chatfest that, due to the childlike costumes and the larger-than-life gestures we’ve adopted out of habit, is reminiscent of small children gossiping on the playground.

So as you can see, not only is it fun, but a throwback of sorts to childhood that makes the late practices, the pressure of having a chunk of time for papers and projects taken away, and all the rehearsing and re-rehearsing and re-re-reahearsing worthwhile.

In our first-ever practice, when the leads and supporting roles gathered together in the dance studio to read the script and listen to our director’s speech about the spirit of the show, he passed around notecards and asked us to write down what we loved about theatre.

Abby Glime, or, as we came to know her, Sally Brown, wrote about how much she loved “the glow of the stage lights on her face”. We teased her for being a drama queen, but in the end we came to realize just how fun it actually was to be out there under the lights, and how much energy we could gain from them—energy that we darn well needed to play a bunch of hyperactive first graders.

The transformation from older kids to little kids was achieved through numerous rehearsals—some fun, some tedious, all exhausting—where we learned the script (a hard thing to do, as the script is made up of fun

vignettes with no real continuous plot), blocked the songs over and over, and, much to the chagrin of Mr. Langmeyer, embraced the inner child within us, which meant constant chattering, fiddling with props, and perhaps the most childish and arguably funniest moment of all when Ben Herndon (Shermy) picked up a piece of cardboard during an improv thing, and, instead of pretending that it was an avant-garde, challenging thing to pantomime (like we had before him, with slight high-school theatre pretention), pretended to pull it from his behind and screamed “THIS IS MY POOOOOP.” (For squeamish parents, there are no poop jokes in the show, only in Ben’s head. The show is entirely appropriate for any age.)

I’d been in seven Key Theatre shows prior to this, and I’ve played some crazy characters, but this was the best show of all for just having fun—we ran around stage shooting each other with toy guns, blowing on bubble pipes, flying kites, playing pianos, and dancing our hearts out. And backstage, the fun didn’t stop—fueled by a wonderful supply of candy and snacks that generous cast members would bring in, we shared numerous laughing fits and inside jokes spurred by impromptu farts, the Sexy Truth or Dare iPhone app, and, of course, our own imaginations.

The imagination, of course, didn’t end backstage–since the show is about six year olds, it’s imaginative by nature, so we attempted to stretch our imaginations to what they once were as we went back to the roles we played as children: Jedi Knight, Indian chief, and queen of the world, to name a few. We were quickly reminded how much fun our imaginations could be, and the audience was too–nearly all the visual gags in the show sprang out of improvisation in rehearsals.

So if you come to see the show this weekend, you won’t only be seeing some of the best songs for toe-tapping in theatre (I had listened to the soundtrack over and over even before I knew we were doing the show), or some of Charles Schultz’s best work, you’ll be seeing our memorial to our little foray back into childhood that we’re about to let go of. It’s not just a musical for us, it’s a farewell to Arran’s Farting Corner and playing with the toys we used to love and playing soldier and wizard and superhero for one last time. We loved the heck out of it, and that’s what this performance is going to be—a manifestation of love for childish enthusiasm, plus some amazing music.

Of course, the success of the show was just as much as reliant on talent as it was on fun—and we had no short supply of talent. Jeff Walter (of Battle of the Bands fame) lends his fantastic voice to Charlie Brown, Caroline Coccoli, an All-State Soprano, is so hilarious as the crabby Lucy that at one point it was suggested that we change the “Beethoven Day” number to “Caroline Day”, Abby Glime as Sally Brown could easily pass for Kristen Chenoweth, Sam Longenecker as Linus shows that he’s inherited the voice, acting chops, and stage presence of his sister, Key Theatre vet Mia, Charles Williams as Schroder brings down the house during numbers like Beethoven Day, and me…I just have fun.

The supporting cast shines as well—while a few people had their doubts about expanding the show, originally meant for six actors, to include eight additional characters in addition to a large ensemble, there’s no question that Natalie Belkov as the tomboyish Peppermint Patty, Katharina Elberti as the elusive Little Red-Haired Girl, Lily Cumberpatch as Snoopy’s pal Woodstock, Arran Joyce as the carefree Pigpen, Ben Herndon as Shermy, the athlete, Marlee Fox (another All-State Soprano) as the nerdy Marcie, Emma Rathmann as the friendly Frieda, and Caitlin McCreight (yet ANOTHER all-state soprano) as the gang’s wannabe cheerleader, are wonderful in their roles.

But, as with all amazing productions, not all of the hard work can be attributed to the actors onstage. Our director Eric Langmeyer keeps us focused and inspired, and always lets us know where to add a little, as he calls them, “paprika” or “gay sparkle”.

And man, have we got sparkle. I recommend this show to all folks of all ages—on the one hand, because we put a lot into it, as you’ve seen in your little peek backstage—but because it’s going to be one of the most enjoyable high school theatre romps you’ll ever have the pleasure of attending, I can promise you. You’ll see Lucy feeding Shermy misiniformation about snow coming out of the ground in the hilarious number “Little Known Facts”, Linus turning his book report on Peter Rabbit into an examination of rabbit sociology in “The Book Report”, Sally change her approach to life (several times) in “My New Philosophy”, and Charlie Brown receive a little psychiactric advice in “The Doctor Is In”…and many more classic numbers that are both musically entertaining and hilarious.

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Category: COLUMNS, Events, From The Classroom, LIFE IN THE AREA

About the Author ()

Fish Stark is a 16-year-old Edgewater resident. He likes laughing, politics, and Reese's cups. His least favorite beverage is unleaded gasoline.His two novels can be read here:http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/First-Daughter.pdfand here:http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/ConventionDRAFT1.pdfHis stand-up comedy and amateur filmmaking can be seen here:http://www.youtube.com/user/theoFishalfishstark

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