With “Footloose Youth Edition" coming to Morristown West High School on May 5 and 6, those who are not involved with the production may wonder what goes on behind the scenes leading up to the performances. On a typical school week, students practice for about six hours after school, hammering away at musical numbers, choreography, acting, line delivery, prop positioning, and light work.
“Footloose Youth Edition” follows Ren, a highschool student who moves from Chicago to the small farming town of Bomont in the Southwest USA (loosely based on the Oklahoma town of Elmore City). Ren believes that he is prepared for the inevitable adjustments that he would need to make to adapt to his new high school; however, he is not prepared for the strict local laws in place, including a ban on dancing set in place by the local reverend intended to control the youth of Bomont that he cannot control in his own home. When the reverend’s daughter sets her sights on Ren, her delinquent boyfriend attempts to sabotage Ren’s reputation, made worse by the locals willing to believe the worst about the new kid. The heartfelt story that emerges is of a father that lost his son and a young man aching for the father that walked out of his life. “Footloose” celebrates the importance of listening to what young people have to say, as well as guiding them with an open heart and an open mind.
“Footloose” first hit movie theaters in 1984 and proved to be one of the most successful movies of that year. Its soundtrack reached number one on the Billboard charts, going on to sell over 17 million copies worldwide, generating Top Forty hit songs such as “Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” “Almost Paradise,” “Holding Out For A Hero,” and “I’m Free (Heaven Helps This Man).” Footloose opened on Broadway on October 22, 1998. The following day, the show broke the box office record for the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where “Footloose" continued to captivate audiences through July 2000. After its run on Broadway, the creators of Footloose made changes to the musical, changing lyrics, removing three songs, and restoring “Still Rockin’.” The reaction to the “new” “Footloose" was immediate and zealous as it went on tour in the UK, bringing excitement throughout Europe and the world. In 2011, “Footloose" received a remake by Paramount Pictures, bringing “Footloose" to a new generation of young fans.
With tech week now within a month’s time, Michael Todd’s theater class pushes towards the goal of perfecting “Footloose Youth Edition" by the time opening night steps out of the future to become the present. Actors have to memorize not only lines and songs, but positioning on stage, gestures, facial expressions, acting, and timing between lines and scenes. Working equally as hard, the backstage crew must help come up with props, their positioning on stage, designing backdrops, when to open and close the curtains, when to activate certain light cues and for how long, designing light cues, and operating the spotlight. It’s not just the students working to perfect “Footloose Youth Edition,” however; Todd works on when to play songs, helps design light cues, advertising the play, directing the production, and working with actors on choreography. On all fronts, “Footloose Youth Edition” is a team effort.
Avaleigh Davis, who plays Bickle in “Footloose Youth Edition,” shared her thoughts on the performance preparation process, stating that “it’s a long and difficult process for sure. … After several long hours of rehearsals, learning cues, costume changes, and prop management, [these things] become burned into your brain. … [There] is a lot of physical preparation for these shows, but that cannot outshine the mental preparation that comes along with it. Stay calm, stay confident, and do your best. The end result will be so worth your while.” Davis also commented on the atmosphere of the theater class, expressing “I love that people have started branching out and interacting with others they weren’t friends with before. … You can definitely see that everyone’s confidence grows on stage.”
Tania Roque Castro, the backstage manager for “Footloose Youth Edition,” commented on her responsibilities as backstage manager, stating “Being backstage manager is definitely a big responsibility, but within that, it’s an exciting position. I get to contribute towards theater by helping here and there, and giving some creative ideas. Of course our actors work hard to give you the best performance you can get, however, the backstage crew gets to create the backgrounds, props, and costumes that really help the plays come to life. My responsibilities as Backstage manager are things such as planning out what materials we need to buy or bring in for background and props, [as well as] helping Todd plan out rehearsal dates and even some [financial] management. I also have the big responsibility of making sure that all of the backstage crew is comfortable, contributing ideas, and helping to bring to life [this] amazing play.”
Todd’s theater class is working as hard as they can at perfecting their production as opening night approaches. As actors work on disguising their anxieties and personalities behind the veil of character(s) they play, their performances become more refined each time they practice, evolving into their characters on stage as they embrace their theatrical personalities.