The high energy of Grease

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By Ken Begley

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancin’ shoes.”

Vince Fontaine from the movie “Grease”

A local theater group composed of teenaged and younger kids from Marion and Washington counties has been selected to perform their version of the musical and dance comedy “Grease” at Walt Disney World in Florida this coming October.   The play is a remake of the Olivia Newton John and John Travolta movie from the 70s.  It’s about the teenagers of fictional Rydell High School set in the 1950s.

Let me tell you something.  They must be good because old Walt didn’t get the reputation of having the premiere amusement park in the world by allowing anything but the best to set foot through his gates.  I actually knew a gal whose dad made a sales pitch to “The House of Mouse” about 30 years ago wanting to use Mickey as an emblem for his product.  She still spoke with wide eyes about the high level of energy the Disney Associates put into protecting “Mr. Mouse’s” name.   In short, her dad didn’t make the cut, and I think he got chased off the property by magical creatures, but that’s another story.

So, where did the road begin for this group of young actors from rural Kentucky?

It began with the efforts of veteran regional theater performers and Washington County residents Jan and Scott Fattizzi of The Central Kentucky Youth Actors and Bluegrass Kids.   Central Kentucky Youth partners with the city of Springfield.  They work with youth from ages five to 18, and have been putting on shows out of the Opera House on Main Street in Springfield for several years now.  They currently have about 40 kids in this afterschool program that pretty much runs year round.  

Their teaching facility, the historic Opera House, had a $1 million makeover a few years ago.  It’s an excellent theater for plays.  

I was curious as to what kind of students become involved with theater, so I went to a practice and asked a series of questions of veteran performers, including Washington County juniors Bianca Young, Rose Clements, and Bob Grider and Marion County home-schooled junior Scott Humphress.  If you add up individually all of the plays that these four high schoolers have been in, then you would come up with close to 30.   

I asked what type of kid would enjoy working in plays.

Rose said someone who likes to act, but never had the opportunity.  She said soft-spoken people seem to enjoy this most.  Bianca said someone who always wanted to step out of their real life and be someone different, even if for just a few hours.  Scott said not every kid cares for sports that much, and this was something totally different that they could get into.

Do you have to be real outgoing to do theater?

Bianca said she was quite shy to begin with, as are most of the kids who come into their group.  Scott and Bob indicated that this type of activity really helps to build up your confidence because you’ll be working in front of so many people.

It must be hard memorizing so many lines of dialogue.

Surprisingly none of the kids indicated that this was a problem.  It seemed to me that they would get into the story so much that the words just came to them when needed.  Also, if they forgot the words then they would improvise on the spot and everyone would fall in behind them.

Do you ever get nervous, I asked them.

Rose and Bianca both thought you channeled that nervous energy into the play.  It seemed to be a good thing and helped to make a good performance.

Have you ever had to improvise on the spot when a prop didn’t work?

Scott and Bob laughed when they said a cutout prop for a car fell over sideways in the current production of Grease during a song.  They said they just kept smiling and singing as they flipped it back up right.

What’s the hardest thing you do in theater?

Rose said getting into character and not letting anything personal affect your performance when the show starts.  Bianca said learning to obey and listen constantly to instructions whether you like it or not from the directors.  She said you have to learn not to take it personal.

What’s the best play you ever performed in?

All said Grease is it.  They like the high energy, quick pace and dance numbers.  Rose said it was fun being teenagers and also playing teenagers from 50 years ago.

How is it working with all these different kids from grade school to high school?

All four indicated that they formed so many new friendships.  Everyone was really supportive of each other, and there is nothing but teamwork in putting on a good play.  After all, it doesn’t matter how good you are if everyone else isn’t just as good.  

Do you ever get tired of all the work?

Bianca and Rose both said it didn’t seem like work.  They would feel happy doing this every day.

Do you think you will continue in theater later?

Scott thought doing all this theater would be good on his resume after he completes college.  Bob’s going to major in engineering, but he would like to continue doing it as a hobby and maybe getting into productions like “The Stephen Foster Story” in Bardstown or plays in college.  Rose also said she might look into continuing doing plays while in college.

I’ll end my interviews with what Bianca told me.  She said, “My plan is to go on to Broadway, but if it doesn’t happen, then I’ll always have my memories of what I have done here and of all my friends.”

It doesn’t get any better than that.

You know what?  

My kids have always been in a lot of activities.  Yet, it was interesting watching these young actors for two hours while they rehearsed for the next Grease performance.  To be honest, I have never seen kids so happy and enjoying something and each other so much in my recent memory.  I’ve seen a lot of the reverse in adult supervised activities.  It just all looked so mentally healthy for these young minds that it gave me pause for thought.

One final thought, watch out for Rose Clements as the character “Rizzo” singing “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”  It’s good.

You will have the opportunity to see what Disney likes Saturday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. or Sunday, Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. at the Opera House on Main Street across from Mordecai’s Restaurant in Springfield.  These performances are for donations only, and the money will be used to help pay for the trip to Disney World.  Tickets are available an hour before the show at both the front and rear entrances to the Opera House.  Doors open 30 minutes before the show.  More information on planned fundraising activities, including the auctioning off of a Muhammad Ali autographed boxing glove, can be obtained by calling 859-336-5412, Extension 4.