Sunny Vidrine’s drama class at Walnut Grove High School is in the midst of rehearsing for their spring musical, practicing choreography and timing, memorizing lines and lyrics and doing what they can to be ready for when the curtain comes up on opening night in several weeks.
They’re also, however, scrambling outside of class to raise money to take their show on the road thanks to a highly-coveted invitation.
“We have received an invitation to perform at the National Thespian Conference this year,” Vidrine said. “This June, it will be in Nebraska, and it’s going to cost between $15,000 to $20,000 to take the students there.”
The WGHS drama program must register for nationals by April 19, which the program will only do if in expectation of reaching that fundraising goal.
“We have a mountain to climb in terms of fundraising and not much time to do it,” Vidrine said.
The impetus for the trip stemmed from the program’s recent trip to the state Thespian Conference where, among the various workshops and other events, the school entered 15 students into the Individual Event, where professional judges consider a short scene performed by the students.
“We decided to put on a scene from our one-act play from the fall, ‘Wiley and the Hairy Man,’” Vidrine said. “We got a perfect score. Out of 350 schools, 50 received superior scores and 20 were asked to perform at the showcase at the end of the conference, and we were among those 20.”
Then the kicker came, as their scene so impressed the judges that WGHS got an invitation to come perform it at the showcase at the national conference.
“It’s an honor to be invited at all,” Vidrine said. “We knew we had something special.”
Now, though, the program is scrambling to raise the needed funds to transport 15 high school students and two adult chaperones to Nebraska.
“We’ve set up a GoFundMe page,” Vidrine said. “And we have a couple of Sprit Nights coming up at Johnny’s Pizza in Loganville on April 3 and April 10. The restaurant will donate 10 percent of the proceeds all day to our travel fund.”
The program is also planning a car wash and is conducting a letter-writing campaign to local businesses asking for sponsorships to help raise the necessary funds to make it to Nebraska.
But, as Vidrine noted, all that is extracurricular. In the auditorium, the young actors have no time to focus on fundraising as they work on the spring musical, the old theater motto “the show must go on” driving them to get “The Drowsy Chaperone” ready for opening night.
“It’s a love letter to the musical theater,” Vidrine said of the frothy, metafictional pastiche of the early days of musicals. “It’s a send-up of the old musicals of the 1920s, so it’s very jazzy. It’s a lot of fun.”
The 1998 Tony-Award winning musical involves a whole host of tropes and Jazz Age cliches to simultaneously indulge and explode, from ditzy socialites to Latin Lotharios, with a host of wedding shenanigans and gangsters to liven up the affair at every point.
“It’s actually very difficult technically,” Vidrine said. “But it doesn’t seem that way, so if we do it right people won’t notice all the hard work.”
The student actors said it’s been a hard but fun ride to work the musical into shape.
“It’s going great,” senior Caleb Reid said. “It’s very choreography heavy, so there’s a lot to learn, but it’s been fun.”
Reid said he enjoys the show’s devil-may-care feel, with a lot of speaking directly to the audience and throwing in new elements on a whim.
“It’s a lot of different things all in one show,” Reid said. “And there’s zero fourth wall, so we interact with the audience a lot.”
Junior Brett Terrell said it’s less a musical-comedy than a musical with a comedy inside it, encouraging audiences to come out and watch the show to learn the difference.
“There’s a lot of spectacle in the show that is difficult,” Terrell said. “We’re ironing all those moments out. At one point in the show, I’m blindfolded on roller skates, doing my best not to go flying off the stage.”
Breanna Zator, a senior at WGHS, said she’s been working to develop the choreography and it’s been quite an intensive show in that regard.
“I definitely think this is one of the choreo-heavy shows we’ve put on,” she said. “It’s also got a lot of jokes and references, so it’s very funny.”
“The Drowsy Chaperone” will debut at 7 p.m. April 26 and continue at the same time April 27-28, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee showing April 28.
Vidrine said it’s a show everyone should enjoy.
“If people love musicals, they will love this show,” she said. “And if they don’t love musicals, they will still love this show.”
To donate to the WGHS drama program’s GoFundMe page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/national-thespian-festival-7663.