As High School Musical’s “Mrs. Darbus” would say, “Proximity to the arts is cleansing for the soul.” Whether most students at ABAC know it or not, musicals have forever been a part of their lives. Most students grew up watching classic Disney movies like “Aladdin,” “High School Musical,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and The Beast” and more. The songs are embedded in memories, much like how most students know the opening song, “Circle of Life,” to Disney’s “The Lion King.” Not only are the songs embedded, but the messages are too; Disney’s “The Princess and The Frog” teaches hard work and determination, “Mulan” teaches those to do what they believe is right (as well as emphasize the strength of women) and “The Lion King” shows how to deal with loss, regret and ultimately with facing one’s fears. Disney musicals are classic examples of how much they played a role in the lives of many.
Musical theater is no different than what most students have seen on TV in terms of the catchy songs that keep the flow of the message that is being told. The main difference is simply that musical theater is live, not animated. Theater offers the same entertainment we as students receive through Netflix, Hulu or even Disney Plus, but something our subscriptions cannot provide us is the joy of seeing something in person. Seeing a theater show is an experience to remember, and ABAC wants to make sure students can encounter some of everything during their time on campus.
For the spring semester, ABAC and the Baldwin Players are proud to present, “The Spitfire Grill,” which is a spirited musical directed by Dr. Brian Ray. Ray, who has been teaching theater and directing ABAC’s plays since 2012, states that, “The Spitfire Grill” is a “modern musical” that “adds a level of freshness to the music and production.” The play itself is based on the Lee Zlotoff movie, which shares the same name. The play was released in 2001 but was overshadowed. Ray said the play was about “a young woman who is paroled from prison” and “finds her way to a small town in the far north of Wisconsin.” Though she is strange to the townspeople, due to her being an outsider, she becomes part of the town and learns she is not the only one wanting a new beginning. Ray says, “she becomes a catalyst for healing that extends far beyond her past” as it extends towards the entire town.
Ray shared the process of developing a musical. “Like any play, the process begins with auditioning and selecting a cast. This show is relatively small—just seven actors (four women and three men). Most of them sing and have at least one solo each,” said Ray. The audition for this musical will consist of a reading from the script as well as performing a piece of a song. Ray states how he has to “find the best possible talent,” and “estimate how the actors will work together,” before finally anticipating, “how the overall ensemble of actors/singers will work best to tell the story of the play.” As far as the actors, after the casting is completed, they will go through a six and a half week rehearsal schedule of three to four nights a week. During the rehearsals is where the actors will have to develop their characters, learn the lines, songs and choreography that is necessary for this musical. Along with working with the actors, Ray also must put together the scenery for the musical in with help from the Tech Director, Josh Davis. Josh Davis will construct the set for the musical, which Ray will add the finishing touches such as painting, props and more. On top of the set, he will also work on costumes and props the actors will need for the play. Included with the necessities for the play, Ray will also work on sound, music and lighting cues with Josh Davis.
On a personal-directing level, Ray states that he spends considerable time “reading the play to imagine what it needs to look like,” “researching other productions” and also figuring out “how to best work with each actor to get the best performance and character development from each individual.” All the prep work that goes into the musical is in hopes of getting the best show for the audience on opening night.
So much goes into directing a show and making it come together that only those with the most passion for theater would take on such a busy job. When asked about what he loves about theater, Ray said, “That’s a challenging question. I think the thing about theatre that interests me most on a personal level is the fact that I can ‘try on’ different characters.” As an actor himself, Ray states how he can be things he could not be in real life, and he enjoys the connection made between the actor and the audience. “That energy is something that my spirit and my soul feeds on. When I am performing, I am lifted out of me for a while, and I get to be connected to the people in the audience in an odd, but wonderful, metaphysical sort of way. It makes me feel alive and exhilarated.” As a director, he finds his fulfillment because he loves being able to bring that same opportunity and share it with the students, community and the audiences.
Those that are interested in working with the musical, but not necessarily be center stage, can help with locating props needed for the musical, putting the set together as well as backstage help during the show. Extra hands are always needed, and those interested can contact Dr. Brian Ray through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For those interested in auditions for ABAC’s productions, the next show will not occur until the Fall of 2020, as ABAC produces one show per academic year. There are auditions for shows at the Tift Theatre in the meantime, for the musical, “Pippin,” which will be in the early summer, the kid’s camp production of, “Cinderella” and a late summer comedy, “A Night in Province.” For more information on the auditions at the Tift Theatre, you can contact Dr. Brian Ray through his email. The Spitfire Grill will be presented on March 26, 27 and 28 at 7:00 p.m. located at Howard Auditorium here on campus.