Fame, puts future teachers onstage

Althouse students sing and swing for '80s production

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Dance rehearsal

LEG WARMERS, HEADBANDS, NEON ... OH MY! Faculty of Education students went through intense rehearsals for the musical production of Fame, which opens tonight at the Althouse Auditorium.

It’s fitting the Althouse Faculty of Education is putting on the ’80s musical Fame, about performing arts high school students in New York City, since they are future teachers.

Fame is about students struggling to reach their potential, but there’s also the teacher characters who are struggling to have those students reach their potential,” director Anne Van Wijk says. “So it really mirrors the experience that we’re going through at the Faculty of Education and our struggles to become those teachers and deal with those students.”

After the success of last year’s Althouse production, Seussical: the Musical, this year’s class decided to take a chance with the highly popular Broadway hit. Set in New York City High School of Performing Arts, the play reveals the characters’ struggles, victories and vices over a span of four years.

While many of the dance sequences are vibrant and energetic, much of the play hones in on the drama surrounding the characters.

Chris Alexander, who plays the ambitious Nick Piazza, agrees acting in Fame has become a self-reflexive process.

“It’s about these students going to a school for performing arts and the way they grow isn’t really through performances; it’s through the way they actually go through school, the way they interact with their friends and everything else,” Piazza explains.

Being in a musical production of this magnitude is a learning experience in itself. The large cast and crew, from the music and vocal directors to the choreographers, are all Faculty of Education students.

“I would say about 75 per cent of our preparation for the production has been a sort of a dance preparation, choreography, etc. because that’s a lot of the show " it’s getting everything in sync and working together,” says Andrew McCubbin, who plays the class clown, Jose ‘Joe’ Vegas.

“So that could be physically difficult at first, but we’ve been doing this for two months now. By now, most of us can do the dancing in our sleep, I think, and occasionally I wake up and I am doing the dancing in my sleep.”

While the rehearsals are intense, many of the members stepped up and are having fun doing so. One of the interesting facets of the Althouse shows is that there is a brand new student base every year, which means new casting opportunities.

“Casting is always difficult because you get very little time to decide who individuals are and who they can be within a role,” Van Wijk explains. “So we simply put up auditions and everybody came in individually. We had them sing and do a little bit of storytelling or acting and they had a separate dance audition which they did as a group. So we put that together and we linked the minds of the choreographers, the directors and the musical and vocal directors and we hedge our bets. It’s worked pretty well for us.”

Chantale Kutkewich, who snagged the female lead role of Iris Kelly, is a theatre graduate from Ryerson University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts. Her training there, as well as her experiences as one of Nelly Furtado’s dancers and as a Cirque du Soleil performer, have helped her prepare for the role.

“Our lives have revolved around the show, our lives are dedicated to the show, our lives are the show,” Kutkewich says with a laugh.

“Everyone’s come together, everyone’s helping each other whether it’s additional rehearsals, private time, whether it’s through emails and writing down the choreography ... and being like, ‘Okay, this is what we gotta do, we’re hitting on right, we’re hitting on left, we’re up, down.’ It’s really rare that you see that because a lot of people don’t necessarily like to share their craft.”

As an aspiring teacher, Kutkewich will take this experience and apply it to her future skills in a demanding career.

“Teaching is obviously a constant battle; day to day, you face different challenges so I think by being in this, we’re constantly facing new identities and trying to create that plethora of individuality … I think it’s going to help all of us in the future.”

Fame, the Musical opens tonight at Althouse Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. and runs until Feb. 23. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

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