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Putting their best foot forward

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Romantic leads junior Miller Lansing and freshman Carter Guensler share an intimate moment during the parent’s night performance of the play.

By Steve Terry

Despite the fire alarm sounding in the background and a last-minute cast change, this year’s spring musical, Something’s Afoot, elicited a standing ovation after the opening-night performance on Thursday, March 22.
“It was one of the best Grady productions I have ever seen,” senior Cheyn Shah said. “I showed up expecting something more typical of Grady but was met with something much more professional.”
Something’s Afoot was directed by literature and drama teacher Lisa Willoughby. It featured a cast of only 10 people and starred junior Miller Lansing and freshman Carter Guensler. Due to the small cast size, however, every student played a major role.
“I was very proud of the work the kids did,” Willoughby said. “It was all very professional. My only regret is that the cast wasn’t bigger so that more people could have taken part in the experience.”
Rehearsal for the play began in late January, right after the cast list came out, with practices held immediately after school until 6 p.m. from Monday through Thursday.
“Practices had a very family-like atmosphere,” junior cast member Annelise Hooper said. “While it was still laid-back, it was definitely a good learning environment.”
Despite all the time and effort put into preparing the play, the cast was in a panic when, at 3 p.m. before opening night, four hours before the performance was to begin, senior cast member Lance Thomas suddenly became extremely sick and was unable to perform. His male understudy, junior Rex Peterson, replaced him.
“I was getting ready to settle down and go backstage and work on something or take a nap [when drama teacher Jake Dreiling told me I had to perform],” Peterson said. “My first reaction was ‘Oh no!’, but I soon calmed down and started preparing myself.” Fortunately, Peterson had been to every practice and was very familiar with each male role.
“I had to improvise some of the trickier parts, but I was familiar enough with each scene that I knew what I was doing,” Peterson said. “I was able to say lines that I knew my character would say.”
His performance was extremely well-received by both the cast and the audience.
“I didn’t even realize that he was the understudy until after the play,” said junior James Moy, who attended the show. “He just seemed so natural.”
One of the notable things about the play was the extensive set. Because the play is a murder mystery in which the house does the killing, the set was extremely complicated and had to be done just right.
“This was hands down the most complex, ambitious set Grady has ever had,” art and set-design teacher John Brandhorst said.
Not only was the set essential to creating the right atmosphere for the play, it was filled with many props and traps, including exploding stairs, a balcony and a head that popped out of a couch and shot a dart at a cast member.
Early stages of set construction began in December 2011. Brandhorst drove the construction of the set with an extreme amount of help from many students, both on and off the cast.
“We definitely couldn’t have done it without the students’ help,” Brandhorst said. “Without them, the play simply would not have happened.”
Junior Alexander Realff and senior Matt Fossett both held leadership roles backstage and devoted large amounts of time to planning, designing and constructing the set. Realff, the crew master, was in charge of coordinating the small army of crew members while Fossett acted as the technical director. Junior Charlie Denton held the role of props master for the more than 118 props.
“When they brought out the list of props, it was like in a TV show, where the list is being held loosely, and it just keeps on dropping lower and lower until it runs all the way until the floor,” Denton said.
The students’ efforts paid off when the set was completed early, giving students more time to focus on details.
Something’s Afoot was shown as a fairly underground play, so acquiring the musical scores was difficult.
“We got the music from the start, but it looked like someone hand-wrote it, and it was very difficult to read,” senior cast member William Bradley said. “Also, we didn’t really have as many singing rehearsals as we wanted.”
Directed by band director Brian Cook, the Grady jazz band along with professional piano accompanist Bryan Mercer had less than a week to learn all the music for the play.
“Our first run-through of the entire show was for parent night [the day before the opening performance],” junior drummer and pit orchestra member Jordan Holiman said. “Fortunately, the music was pretty easy, so it wasn’t a problem.”
Despite all the work put into the play’s production, it was not without its last-minute hiccups. During the opening-night performance, the fire alarm went off about halfway through the second act and continued to sound until after the conclusion of the show.
“For about five seconds, I thought [the alarm] was a part of the play,” Moy said. “After a little while I realized that it wasn’t, but the actors just kept on going. You couldn’t see any shock or panic in their faces.”
Unable to turn off the fire alarm, backstage members covered up the alarm’s speakers in an attempt to muffle it.
“People were getting creative with ways to cover up the speakers,” Denton said. “There were jackets, plastic boxes, insulation and, I think in one case, menstrual pads [covering the speakers].”
Originally the crew believed the alarm sounded because the smoke machines were set off minutes before the alarm sounded. This, however, wasn’t the cause.
“Every other time we practiced the play [with the mist explosion] the fire alarms didn’t go off,” Realff said. “We think that it was a member of the cleaning crew who saw smoke pouring out of the music hall and must have believed the building was on fire.”
Despite the hiccups, the play continued and left cast members and drama teachers excited for future plays.
“Every production is special,” Willoughby said. “It is always difficult and exciting to rise to the challenges. It leaves us looking forward to the next productions.”

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