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Hopelessly devoted to theater

Bay Port High School students perform in ‘Grease’

Jenn Koss Photos

By Janelle Fisher

City Pages Editor

Students from Bay Port High School will take audiences back in time this weekend and next as they put on their spring musical — a production of Grease.

A familiar title for many, the show’s director Jaclyn Beattie said she was surprised by how many of the cast and crew would have this production as their first exposure of the fun-filled ’50s storyline and songs.

“It is a well-known show, but shockingly enough there were a lot of our kids and even some of our directors who had never seen it before which kind of surprised us when we chose it,” she said.

The popularity of the show isn’t necessarily the only reason it was chosen for this year, though, as Beattie said she was looking for a fun, easier show after a few years of more challenging productions.

Jenn Koss Photos

“I guess one of the reasons why we chose it is that the past couple of years we have chosen some shows that have had some really difficult elements to it,” she said. “So like last year we did Beauty and the Beast and there were difficulties with costumes and the set and with tech things and we just kind of wanted to show this year to be really fun. And what’s more fun than Grease?”

Even though it’s not entirely fun and games, Beattie said her students have still really connected with the show and had a lot of fun putting it together.

“It deals with some serious issues, but there’s so much of it that’s so much fun,” she said. “And it truly is just about a group of high school kids that are really good friends, and our kids related to that so much. And they had so much fun doing practices and learning the dances. I think the ’50s is just kind of a fun era for them to get to play.”

Beattie said doing a show set in a different time period presents a unique challenge for the students involved with the show as they learn what high schoolers were like back then.

“It’s always funny whenever we do a show that is from a different era,” she said. “Even though it’s high school kids, so it’s not that big of a stretch for these students to be playing high school kids, we have to constantly remind them these are high school kids in the ’50s. So some of the little nuances that you would have or maybe even some of the dance moves won’t necessarily be appropriate for the ’50s. That’s always a little bit of a challenge, and it’s always kind of fun, too, because then what the kids do is they go and they look up what teenagers were like in the ’50s. It gives them almost like a little bit of a history lesson.”

The cast, Beattie said, is made up of a wide variety of students with a broad range of experience.

“We have about 50 kids in the cast and those students range anywhere from freshmen to seniors,” she said. “I think we have nine or ten seniors, and some of those seniors have been in every show that they could have been in their four years at Bay Port. And then for some kids, it’s their very first show here at Bay Port. It’s always kind of fun to have the difference — the two ends of the spectrum.”

All of the students involved in the production have shown great dedication to the show throughout the long process of putting the show together, Beattie said.

“We start our audition process January 2, so right when we came back from Christmas break, we had our auditions,” she said. “And so we start our rehearsals, probably the second or third week of January and these kids have had rehearsals four nights a week and a couple of weekend rehearsals every night since January. So it’s long, but it’s super, super fun. In April we get to start to add in the pit so we get the music and then we get to add in the set pieces and things like that and then the costumes. Then it really starts to get going in April, and it’s fun because the kids finally get to see all the pieces put together.”

Beattie said many of her students have a passion for theater that extends even beyond Bay Port.

“The kids who are involved in theater here at Bay Port, a lot of them even do it outside of school,” she said. “So they do community theater or St. Norbert theater — some of them even take classes at the Birder Studio — and so many of them have an interest in doing it outside of high school. Unfortunately, it becomes really, really difficult once you get into the college years to actually continue on with theater. But I think for the amount of hours and work these kids put into it, you almost have to have a passion for it because otherwise it becomes a lot to do. But they’re awesome and they’re great and they have so much passion for it.”

That passion for theater is something that Beattie shares with her students — and something she’s had since childhood.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I was always involved in theater,” she said. “I think it started when I was nine years old and my mom took me to an audition for community theater. So theater’s always been a big, big part of my life. I continued through high school and then when I was able when I started teaching at Bay Port — I’ve been teaching at Bay Port now for 20 years — when I was two or three years into teaching here, I was given the awesome opportunity to come in and sit in on some of the practices from a fellow teacher who actually was in charge at that time. And then I became his assistant director, so when he retired, I just kind of moved into the role of director.”

Being an avid lover of theater, Beattie said picking a favorite show is difficult — there are many shows she loves and many she’d like to see Bay Port put on in the future.

“I am a big fan of classic musicals and things like that,” she said. “Those are always fun because that’s what I grew up with… A few years ago we did Guys and Dolls and that’s considered a classic musical, and it’s fun to show kids what musicals were like back then. But then there’s so many amazing musicals that are popular like Hamilton and Wicked and even things that are on Broadway now that I would love to be a part of. So I can’t choose a single one that would be my dream show — there’s just too many of them.”

Luckily, Beattie said she doesn’t have to make the decision alone and has a great team of directors to help her select the best show for the students each year.

“I am very thankful that I have the directors that I have that do this with me,” she said. “I have an assistant director, I have a music director and he does both the vocals and the instrumental music, a costume director, and I even have a choreographer and a tech director. So we all kind of get together and throw out ideas and just kind of look at what we’ve done in the past. Are there any trends? What’s available now? Because every year, new shows come out. And so we work together to try to come up with the best show that we can possibly do. And it’s a struggle sometimes because yes, we want to do the popular ones, but there’s also so many musicals out there that are maybe not as popular that are just such good shows and such good shows for high schoolers years. But it’s really nice because we all get to work together to kind of figure it out.”

This year’s selection has proven to be a popular one. Less than a week away from opening night, just a handful of tickets remain available for the first three performances.

“When we get to this point, it’s always so nice because now the kids get to see what they’ve been working for for so long,” she said. “And we’re really, really lucky that our first weekend is pretty much sold out. I think that always makes the kids really, really excited because they start to realize just how many people are going to see their hard work and their dedication and see what actually happens when you put in that amount of work… We always enjoy when [a show is] sold out, but our PAC (performing arts center) holds over 700 seats. So selling out is kind of a big deal for us because typically we don’t have those numbers. It kind of depends on the show, and over the past few years we’re starting to sell out more and more shows, which is really nice, but this is the first time that we’ve sold out as quickly as we did.”

Limited tickets are still available at bayporttheater.weebly.com/spring-musical.html, but those interested in attending had better hurry — they’re selling out faster than Greased Lightning.

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