KHS tackles 'Guys and Dolls'

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Tue., Jan. 17, 2012
(L-r) David Alvarado, Alex Mason, Cory Zicolella and Brandon Martins practice their dance moves. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L-r) David Alvarado, Alex Mason, Cory Zicolella and Brandon Martins practice their dance moves. Photos by D. Coffey.

English teacher Rachel Lacy stood at the foot of the Killingly High School auditorium stage on Jan. 11, watching some students practice their dance steps. She had turned in her teaching hat for a director's hat. Rather than discussing plot and character development, she was paying attention to the visual scene her actors were creating. She moved from one end of the stage to the other. A dozen gamblers practiced tipping their hats and moving their feet to a tune that choral director Pam Rodgers played on the piano. Choreographers John Fulco and Pauline Moore worked on stage with the students. Moore counted out the steps loudly. Fulco showed the students how they should move to the number.

“Dip, dip,” he said, as the gamblers moved around the stage in formation. He showed them how to take off their derbies and hold them at arm's length. “Show some respect,” he said. “Then bring it back at the words 'New York.'” The students tried the routine again.

“I thought this was going to take 10 minutes,” Lacy said. As director of the musical production “Guys and Dolls,” Lacy is responsible for overseeing many details, including choreography, light and design. She has a crew of dedicated faculty and staff on her side. English teacher Jennifer Nadeau is the producer, taking care of the business details. Band director Jeff Ethier will make sure his musicians are ready for the pit. Choral director Pam Rodgers rehearses the songs with the students. English teacher John Fulco assists with choreography, along with instructional assistant and dancer Pauline Moore. Assistant director Heather Clarke helps by making copious notes on the script (129 pages) and on the songs (89 pages). She has completed writing just a few of the 29 biographies that will be in the program.

“It takes a big sense of community and talent and responsibility and reliability to put on a play,” Lacy said. “It's a learning experience for the kids to see that if someone isn't there, things break down. We need everyone here.”

But not everyone was there. One actor had a voice lesson and another student filled in for him. One of the main characters was absent. “We're dealing with kids who are sick or absent, so it’s been a difficult road when we don't have everyone here,” said Lacy.  Someone was standing in for the main character, Nathan Detroit. “Nathan isn't going to know how to dance,” lamented Lacy.

The show includes more than 50 students. There are 46 songs in the play. Most of them are dance numbers. The separate groups have gone off to different rooms in the school to practice. The Hot Box girls are in one room, the gamblers in another. They have to do this in order to get the show ready in time for its Feb. 9 opening.

The students have been working on it since October. They meet every day after school to work on their characters, memorize lines, and practice dance moves. Lacy estimates it takes a good 12 weeks of practice to put on a musical. That's five days a week, at least two hours a day for 12 weeks. And that's just counting rehearsals after school. What students do on their own is all extra. If they are anything like Lacy, they're spending most of their waking hours on it. She sings songs in the morning. She listens to the songs on her way to work. “I live this show,” she said.

“I want the kids to take it seriously,” Lacy said. “They know they are acting. It's their job is to make it believable. They need to concentrate on their roles before they step on stage. You don't just instantly become an actor. I have them do a lot of background work. They have to give themselves an identity and a background.”

Nadeau has seen the benefits that some students have already reaped from participating. “I find that the kids are more confident when they go back into the classroom,” she said. Confidence will help them complete a seven-minute speech that is a graduation requirement. Other benefits are less measurable. “For a lot of kids, this is something that keeps them here,” Nadeau said. “This is the best forum for them to be artistic and creative, whether it’s musical or dancing or helping behind scenes, or doing makeup and hair, this is what they look forward to.”

Lacy would eventually love to see an all-school play with teachers in different disciplines teaching around the play's themes. “I'm hoping to build on this,” she said.

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