Inside Look at Niles West Theatre’s “Xanadu”

By Mara Shapiro

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Flashing blue-colored lights seem to pop up from simple clicks of a keyboard from stage manager Aria Caldwell and assistant director Jason Magel, as the actors from Niles West Theatre’s “Xanadu” finish their song about a goddess named Clio who plans to come to Earth to inspire a mortal to build a roller-skating rink, but if she falls in love she will be banished to the underworld.

The actors move their hands in time to their dance as theatre director Andrew Sinclair encourages them with little suggestions such as “JamBi [Evangelista], step back” or “Do that again.” The actors give each other advice as well, as demonstrated when senior Quinn Lawson-Hall (Terpiscore) tells senior Rachel Flink (Euterpe) where she should stand.

The scene ends and senior Steven Czajkowski, who plays Sonny, appears. He starts off with his monologue about wanting to jump off the pier and commit suicide,  but when  he starts to lose focus and crack jokes, Sinclair calmly, but briskly tells  him  to remain focused and  Czajkowski goes back to his scene.  Senior Lauren  Langer (Clio/Kira) then appears on roller skates for the scene when Kira meets Sonny. The two sing a song–because after all it is a musical and there are many, many songs. Langer skates toward Czajkowski and promptly falls down laughing on her behind–a mistake, the first of many.  Falling down, getting side-tracked, forgetting lines, having to repeat scenes at least five times because of that one mess up that won’t stop happening, microphone mishaps–these are things an audience member never witnesses while watching plays here at West.

Meanwhile, choral director Amy Brahnal assists freshmen Jordan Goldberg and Max Yusim, junior Merrill Miller, and senior Jieun Kwon with the musical aspects on top of the scaffolding.

Sinclair, choreographer Patti-Anne Davis, and Brahnal are very helpful and are passionate about the musical. When Langer needs help with her skatting, Brahnal helps her find new syllables to use. Davis helps Lawson-Hall and sophomore Daniel Bedoya, who plays Danny/Zeus, with their complex dance moves, demonstrating over and over again. And the ever-present Sinclair keeps the gang focused and provides many suggestions, even helping Lawson-Hall’s dancing next to Czajkowski by going up on stage and shaking it for everyone to see, which provided the cast and crew with many laughs.

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This has been what has been going on inside the Black Box every day from 3:30-6:30 pm on the weekdays and 10 am-4 pm on Saturday since Sept. 28, but did you know that preparation for “Xanadu” had begun a long, long time before the school year?

“In the beginning of summer, we went through the script and decided what we needed… the design of the 80’s and roller skates,” sophomore and scene design assistant designer Lila Gilbert says.

Once the day’s scenes and songs are rehearsed, Sinclair calls a thespian pow-wow on stage. He first asks his crew if they want his good news, or bad. Of course, they choose the bad.

His main gripe is that the cast, when not on stage, seems to just be gossiping with each other and should be practicing their dance moves, which need some work. He tells them “.. That’s what separates the amateurs from the professionals, that, and a paycheck.” Even while admonishing, Sinclair tries to lift everyone’s spirits. He tells the cast to imagine that they are performing for little kids and to really enunciate when they talk. Once he says his complaints, he compliments by telling the cast that they really have shown improvement and that he is proud of them all. Finally, he asks for feedback, and seniors Julia Zasso (Calliope/Aphrodite) and Anahita Karimi (Melpomene/Medusa) discuss scene troubles with him, and then everyone is free to go unless they want to stay after for some more pointers, thus ending the long practice of the day.

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Behind the scenes via the dressing room is exactly as you would imagine it: Rows of light bulbs above the mirror like in Hollywood, water bottles strewn everywhere, and even an actor’s English book thrown in the mix. The cast is very friendly and love each other–the giving of massages, hugs, harmless teasing, and even a bromance between Lawson-Hall and Czajkowski going on.

Q: How did you prepare for the dancing and singing?

Bedoya: “I listened to the recording nonstop. I tried to make the songs my own thing and practiced for hours.”

Q: How did you prepare for the rollerskating parts?

Gilbert: “Everyone practiced rollerskating around the school. It was a lot of fun. They picked it up quick.”

Sophomore Cameron Broderick(Thalia):”I knew how to skate prior to the show.”

Czajkowski:”I knew how to skate. Rollerblading isn’t that much different than rollerskating.”

Q:Is the kissing scene [between you and Langer ]making you nervous?

Czajkowski ,with a smirk: “It’s not that big of a deal.” Lawson-Hall quips that it’s probably a bigger deal for Langer, because Czajkowski is so sexy.

Q:How do you deal with the long practices?

Evangelista,who plays Erato: “After the loss of senior Nathan Palma, long practices help me get my mind off of things.”

Czajkowski: “I don’t sleep and drink a lot of coffee.”

Junior Merrick McWherter, who plays a muse: “Theatre is where I let loose. I don’t really care about staying here for this long because you start focusing on the show and you have a lot of fun.”

Q: How have you and senior and Audio Lead Ashley Pagett been dealing with the microphones?

Sophomore and Paint Lead Susana Montoya Quinchia: “Putting on everyone’s mic on set is frustrating because it needs to be stuck to the face. If the actor dances or sings too much it needs to be replaced. [Replacements] can happen 5-6 times a day.”

Q: What is it like to play a girl? (All the male actors, besides Czajkowski and Bedoya, play a muse for at least one part of the musical).

Lawson-Hall: “Once you put the dress on it happens. You can’t act like a guy once you put a dress on.”

Q: How do you remember your lines and does it annoy you to keep on repeating scenes?

Czajkowski: “I use repetition and we don’t get frustrated because we know it is for the show.”

Q: What is the relationship between the cast?

Zasso: “There is exciting drama. We all get along.”

Evangelista: ” A small cast is better. We all hang out after rehearsal.”

Senior Bryan Taico, who plays a muse: “We all get along. We are like a family, we fight, but we all love each other.”

Q:What is it like knowing that you are a senior and will be leaving Niles West Theatre at the end of the school year?

Zasso: “It’s sad, but it’s making me take advantage of putting on the best show.”

Q: How has Sinclair been as an instructor?

Taico: “He’s like a big brother/father figure to me. I really don’t like to disappoint him and he makes us better actors.”

Q:Why should people attend “Xanadu?”

Broderick: “It’s different from any other show we’ve put on.”

Junior Danny Morrison, who plays a muse: ” There is cross-dressing and boys in short -shorts.”

Czajkowski: “It’s one of the most fun shows that the school has ever done. It’s intense, it’s one of the hardest shows because of the roller skates. There are a lot of costume changes[as well].”

“Xanadu” will be put on in the Black Box Theatre Thursday, Nov. 3 through Saturday, Nov. 5. The Thursday show is a free community performance at 10 am. The Friday shows are at 4 and 7:30 pm, and the Saturday show is at 7:30 pm. The ticket price for adults is $10, and for students and seniors the price is $7.