by SAMANTHA LEWIS
WESTFIELD, Ind. (Oct. 2018) - Seconds before the start of the show, the stage was silent as pantsuit and flapper-clad actors took their places center-stage and techies stood watching in the wings, anticipating the first scene change. All that could be heard was the consistent jabber of the audience, both a comfort and a reminder to each performer to do his or her best. The crowd slowly quieted as the curtain rolled open and the lights came up on a group of smiling dancers frozen in place, and a soft “five six seven eight” from Mr. Prichard prompted the Jazz Band to begin the opening number of The Great Gatsby.
The “Roaring ‘20s” may have had its prime nearly a century ago, but Thespian Troupe #1002 brought back the era of speakeasies and prohibition in October 2018. Needless to say, bringing the past back to life brought its fair share of challenges. Mallory Cooper (10), the hair designer for The Great Gatsby, dealt with all the chaos of hairspray and bobby pins backstage.
“It’s a different decade, so it’s all things I’ve never done before or tried at all, and it’s all stuff that I would have never known existed if I hadn’t researched it,” Cooper said.
Cooper also faced challenges with unfamiliar styles; each character had unique costume pieces, requiring careful preparation and maintenance.
“Everything was so fancy, and there were people wearing headbands with jewels all over them, or hair clips that had pearls and diamonds all over them,” Cooper said. “And a lot people [had] to roll their hair in headbands which is kind of a difficult thing to do.”
Backstage wasn’t the only place where thespians had to adjust to a different era: the process of character development for The Great Gatsby was just as difficult.
“With this time period, people weren’t as filtered,” Max Rollo (12) said. “They went straight off their emotions; they didn’t really think too much. So I felt like that was kind of a flip. Nowadays...we think before we say, but back then, they just did whatever they felt, they said whatever they felt.”
Yet the story of The Great Gatsby was not all parties and excitement. Rollo played George Wilson, the husband of Myrtle Wilson and owner of a garage who plays a crucial part in the climax of the play. With heavy subject matter such as love, murder, alcoholism and domestic abuse, each scene required careful blocking and performance.
“My favorite part would have to be my fight with Myrtle because it’s such an intense scene and it’s so emotional, but it’s kind of fun at the same time,” Rollo said. “I just have to GIVE EVERYTHING, and sometimes it’s nice to just put your emotions out there.”
While the actors told F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale, just feet away, the Jazz Band sat on a raised platform in the background of the scenery, playing classic jazz songs such as “Summertime” and “The Charleston!” and setting the mood for the show.
“The most difficult thing about it is the improvising because I’m such a classical player that I want to just read the stuff on the page… but you get the freedom with jazz,” Katy Zaloudek (12) said. “You are given a 16 bar phrase that you can improvise. So you need to know all of your jazz scales and all of the notes that go with that and then make it sound good.”
But just like any part of live theatre, the challenges came with reward. Even theatre veterans had something new to learn from the show or gained an experience they’ll never forget.
“When I started theatre [as a sophomore], I was so scared,” Rollo said. “It was way out of my comfort zone and I told myself ‘I’m just gonna try this.’ You know, try something new, maybe I’ll like it, maybe I won’t, but I won’t know it unless I try. So I did it, and I absolutely loved it, and I’ve loved it ever since. And it’s helped me grow as a person in so many different ways.”