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BWW Blog: Revival! - Bringing a Show to KCACTF

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BWW Blog: Revival! - Bringing a Show to KCACTF

Revivals. They're a great way to introduce classic plays or musicals to a new audience, with directors often putting a fresh new spin on the source material. If you're a theatre fan, there's probably a show that you would love to see revived. Maybe, if you're an actor, there's a show you've been in that you would give anything to do again.

If you choose to pursue theatre in college, your chances of being able to do so could be increased.

In college, there's a chance you'll learn about the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF). This week-long festival is full of opportunities for actors, playwrights, student directors, and plenty more. Not only are there workshops for just about anything you can think of and awards that you can be eligible for, but you can watch selected productions from schools all over your region.

Earlier this year, State Fair Community College's production of Be More Chill was selected to be performed at the Region V festival in Sioux Falls, SD. This was the first time a production from SFCC had been invited, so it was a very big deal, especially to the directors who had been there for over 20 years and had never seen it happen. And what a show to have selected for their first invited production!

So, without further delay, here's the story of how our "revival" came to be.

In the spring of 2018, the upcoming season for SFCC's theatre program was announced. They called it "A Monster of a Season" because it included plays about--you guessed it--monsters. The list included an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the hilarious yet epic adventure She Kills Monsters, and Bat Boy: The Musical, which was set to be the final production of the year. Unfortunately, right after the announcement was made, the rights holders to Bat Boy dropped a huge bomb on the directors.

Another theatre company in the area was also planning to produce Bat Boy, and rather than granting us both the rights, they decided to give the rights to that theatre company. So the directors needed to find another musical to end the year.

Around the same time, a little musical called Be More Chill was getting ready for its New York premiere, and director Kristen Henning was in love with it. As it turned out, the performance rights to the show were still available, so she and the other directors read the script, got the rights and announced that Be More Chill would be replacing Bat Boy.

This didn't bother any of us at all. In fact, we were over the moon about it. We were going to be putting on one of the most popular musicals in America, so what reason did we have to complain?

Shortly after the school year started, it was announced that Be More Chill would be transferring to Broadway following its Off-Broadway run. With the Broadway production scheduled to open in March 2019 and ours scheduled for that April, we were a little worried about whether or not our production would be affected in any way by the transfer.

Fortunately, everything worked out just fine. After a crazy rehearsal period full of laughter, crying, and several late nights, we opened Be More Chill to an overwhelmingly positive response from our local community. Over the next week, we performed for audiences both young and old, saw people travel from different states just to see us, and even partnered with the Lyceum Theatre in New York City to give away two free tickets to the Broadway production of the show.

BWW Blog: Revival! - Bringing a Show to KCACTF
Rich set a fire and he burned down the house!" (Original Production Photo)

Like the original New Jersey cast of the Be More Chill, we thought that we would perform the show for a short period of time and then say goodbye to it. With any school production, that's just how it works. However, when Julie Mollenkamp from the University of Central Missouri came to give us a production response, she was so blown away that she suggested we enter the show as a participating production for KCACTF, meaning, if selected, we would have the chance to showcase it at the festival.

Did you ever see the video of the cast of Be More Chill finding out they were going to Broadway? That's how we felt.

After having another respondent come to the show and give us more positive feedback, the choice was clear. We entered the show as a participating production. While we couldn't have been more excited, there were some challenges we had to face.

We did the show in April, so that year's festival had already happened. We also wouldn't find out if our production was selected until December. To top it all off, we were going to be losing some principal cast members at the end of the semester, so we had roles to recast.

Luckily, we found our replacements in some very talented freshmen, and we began once-weekly rehearsals midway through the semester, while at the same time rehearsing for another show. Then, over winter break, we got the call that Be More Chill was officially selected as an invited production. This meant we had a rough few weeks ahead of us.

As soon as the new year began, we got to work on daily rehearsals and got the show as close to the way it was when we first performed it nearly a year prior. We rehearsed for two weeks straight, and had a performance for the public in Sedalia the week before the festival. Immediately after the show, we loaded our sets and costumes into a truck and called it a night.

The following Wednesday was our performance in Sioux Falls, and it felt... intimidating.

First off, we were surprised to find out that we were performing on the main stage at the Washington Pavilion downtown, rather than at the nearby Orpheum Theatre; the Orpheum stage is closer in size to ours at SFCC, while the stage at the Washington Pavilion is massive. We also found out that our performance would not be a ticketed event like the other shows at the festival, so that there would be a seat for anyone who wanted to come.

Not that seats would have run out. There were 1,900 of them.

BWW Blog: Revival! - Bringing a Show to KCACTF
Me (right) and Garrett Hight (left) onstage at the Washington Pavilion

Much of that morning was spent loading in our sets and costumes and figuring out how to adapt to the large stage. By mid-afternoon we were just anxiously waiting for the house to open, wandering around the theatre and double checking that everything we needed was where we needed it to be.

I spent some time looking at the walls backstage, which were covered in the names of people who had previously performed there, as well as a lot of national tours. Now a bunch of college kids from a small community college were about to take that same stage. It felt strange, but we were so ready.

The doors opened around 6:00, and immediately college students were flooding the orchestra, filling rows by the second. We did our makeup, got our costumes and mics on, and got into our battle stations. As soon as we heard "Weird Science" by Oingo Boingo, we knew it was go time.

The lights went down, the band started playing "Jeremy's Theme", and the audience immediately went nuts. From that point on, it was like a dream. Everything felt so surreal.

BWW Blog: Revival! - Bringing a Show to KCACTF
"Get out of my way... loser."
(Left to right: Holden Childress as Michael, Garrett Hight as Jeremy)

As if performing in front of 1,500 theatre students wasn't nerve-wracking enough, I had to sing the show's anthem, "Michael in the Bathroom," alone onstage in front of all of them. I was incredibly terrified every time the song started, even more so on that stage. But the audience was so responsive, cheering before I even made it to the second verse of the song. That certainly gave me the boost I needed to get through what I consider one of my best performances of the song (that Whitney Houston lyric even surprised me).

BWW Blog: Revival! - Bringing a Show to KCACTF
Curtain call after KCACTF performance, captured from the wings by Denver Montgomery

By the end of the night, we could all tell that we had connected with our audience in a big way. We were just a group of theatre fans in love with a musical performing for over a thousand fellow theatre fans, most of whom were also in love with that musical. That, to me, was the most special thing about the entire experience.

When I first started college, I never would have imagined that I would get the chance to perform in a show that resonated with the performers as well as the audience in such a powerful way, let alone get to do it on such a large stage in front of so many people. It was stressful and kind of scary, but it was amazing. I never knew that a weird little musical about teens taking sci-fi drugs would change my life, but it certainly did. Be More Chill was an unforgettable experience that I will be forever thankful for.

Looking back on it now, it's crazy to think that if we had done Bat Boy, none of that would have happened. So, to whoever got the rights taken away from us, thank you.

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