Students race from blank paper to new musical in 2 days

By: Ben Bartenstein,
June 13, 2014 Updated: June 13, 2014 at 5:21 am
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Hollywood could learn something from a cadre of young local thespians.

Fifteen students from Manitou Springs and St. Mary's high schools are producing a musical from scratch in 48 hours.

They showed up to Manitou Springs High School on Wednesday evening with a blank script. At 7 p.m. Friday, they will take the stage at the district's auditorium for the musical's premiere.

"We literally started with nothing," said Wendy Harms, the theatre director. "We go from Wednesday at seven, nothing. And Friday at seven, a musical."

The idea sprung from the 24-hour musicals performed by professional actors and actresses in New York.

"It's kind of a newer model," Harms said. "When I presented this to kids in my high school drama classes, they were over the moon about it. They just thought it was the best thing in the world."

One of the participants in the musical is Jonathan Harmor, a recent Manitou Springs High School graduate, who said he's "done everything from wearing a pink dress on stage to playing with fire" in past performances.

"I'm really happy we're doing this," Harmor said. "It's the first time we've ever done it, but I think it's going to turn out really well."

On Wednesday, the students brought in "funky props," which inspired the initial brainstorming session on the musical's plot, according to Harms. The storyline: a bunch of writers try to pitch their stories to a 1920s pulp magazine editor, who selects three stories, which involve pirates, a superhero named Mr. Booze and a murder-mystery.

Since Wednesday evening, the students have juggled script writing, musical composition, prop building and set design. At 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, instructor Nicole Berry helped lead a choreography session.

Unlike most theatrical productions, in which students get divided into "on-stage" and "off-stage" groups, these students are getting a taste of both worlds. "Given the level of talent in this group, they are all writing and they're all performing," Harms said. "We're using all of the kids' talents."

This has led to some interesting musical scores, which local songwriter Charles Sjolander has helped write along with the students. In the music room, a violin, piccolo, guitar and accordion were strewn about the floor as the group composed a song.

Less than 24 hours into production, the script appeared polished. The students, most highly-caffeinated yet yawning, were set for the home stretch: memorization, rehearsal and show time.

"Going into this, you sort of think, how are you going to write that, direct it and memorize it?" Harmor said. "I think it's a tall order, but I think it's going to be really interesting to see."

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