EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Even without an audience, the cast of Footloose brought the same lively energy to the stage as they would on opening night. Actors of all ages and levels of experience filled the stage, working together to bring to life the story of a small, conservative midwestern town and the teenagers that try to overturn its ban on dancing.
The excitement in the room was clear from the bustle and conversation of friends all around. The dancers kicked and walked in perfect time, practicing in the boots they would wear to the real show. One carried a chicken prop as she giggled and danced with the rest. “To be honest,” says Amy Chen, who plays Ariel’s friend Rusty, “I’ve kind of fallen in love with Playhouse 22.”
Actors alternated from the audience to the stage as they moved through a dance number, a scene run-through, and an ensemble vocal warm up. Depending on the day, they run different types of rehearsals, each targeting a different skill.
Choreographer Raven Dunbar says, “There’s a music rehearsal, which is when the cast will come in and learn all the vocals. We have dance rehearsals where they’re just choreography-driven, and that’s where I’ll come in and teach the numbers and the dances, and then we review them for memorization. And then a staging rehearsal is when the director will come in and do all the scene work, like lines and more conversational parts of the show. “
Many young actors discovered Playhouse through friends, ads, and the Internet. Kaitlyn Young, a member of the ensemble, says, “Seeing how it’s the first outside performance, I was like, ‘I totally want to audition for this!’ and I just went for it. I wanted to do something fun with my summer.” Jordyn David, another ensemble member, says, “It’s my first play at Playhouse 22 and the community is really awesome and the creative staff is really dedicated. I thought it was a really cool opportunity to be the first play to perform outside.”
Footloose is the first Playhouse 22 production of the summer and the first ever to be held on its outdoor amphitheater. To ensure that things run smoothly, especially on a new stage, the cast must prepare rigorously, meeting Sunday through Thursday and Saturday morning. Typical rehearsals run from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but as the show approaches rehearsals extend to 11 p.m.
The idea of performing outside on the amphitheater came from the EB Arts Coalition, a program that helps integrate more of the arts into the community. One of these ways was to utilize the outdoor space of the Community Arts Center. Dunbar says, “It’s something that’s more family friendly and has more of a summer vibe to it, like Plays in the Park or Summer under the Stars, with lounge chairs and food trucks and a show at nighttime to set the scene.”
You can see Footloose on July 25, 26, 27 and August 1, 2, 3 at the Community Arts Center on 721 Cranbury Rd.