Young actors in green fatigues hurried to put the final touches on their costumes, while chorus girls shimmering in gold dresses adjusted their hair. In the midst of the backstage activity, South Tahoe High School Artistic Director Nannette "Niv" Niven gave advice, encouragement and orders before Monday's dress rehearsal of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."
The musical follows best friends Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, former servicemen who become Broadway sensations, and their romantic counterparts - the talented sister act Betty and Judy Haynes. The team travels east for a gig in Vermont, only to find there's no snow and bookings are down. So Wallace and Davis launch a scheme to fix the situation, and music, comedy and romance ensue.
The students have practiced for the play about 15 hours a week since the end of October. With almost 100 hours of rehearsals behind them, the group of about 50 young actors and actresses will take to the stage in front of an audience for the first time Friday. The bustling preparations during the final week before opening night are the last chance to smooth out any wrinkles in the show. The students just won't go home for the next four days, Niven joked Monday.
Niven, who started working in the high school's performing arts department 16 years ago, isn't new to musical theater. Her directing and performing career spans from New York to Harrah's Lake Tahoe, and she's worked with both professional actors and students. For student productions like "White Christmas," in which about 90 percent of the cast is inexperienced, there's a lot of coaching involved, Niven said.
"I get my whip out. It's repetition. And sometimes you don't get something you're not going to get, but it's really an education. That's part of the fun," Niven said.
One of the actors new to acting is Ben Eliot, cast as the womanizer Phil Davis. The senior sang in a band, but he'd never recited lines on stage before "White Christmas." Other than always remembering to face the audience, the two aren't so different, he said.
There's also learning how to step into character. Eliot said that challenge was made easier since Alec Niven, who plays Phil's buddy Bob, is really his best friend. After that, pretending to be the "flirty and promiscuous" Phil wasn't so hard, Eliot said.
For veteran actresses Emily Dawes and Korrigan Zwijacz - cast as Betty and Judy Haynes - their characters didn't come quite as naturally. Dawes plays the reserved older sister Betty, while Zwijacz plays the flirty and outgoing Judy. In reality, those roles would be reversed, Dawes said with a laugh.
"You just have to develop a character in your head. You have to feel it. Each character has their own story. You just have to be confident and have fun," Zwijacz said.
For many of the young actors, getting over stage fright can be the highest hurdle, but Niven said a few butterflies in your stomach before a performance are not only natural but helpful.
"You don't get over the stage fright. It's good for you, it gives you the adrenaline rush. I'm worried if I don't have some stage fright," Niven said.
It's gratifying to see students try something they never thought they could do, from performing onstage to setting up lights behind the curtains, Niven said. The theater and the performing arts are central components of a well-rounded education, she said.
"I always wish that those people who are cutting the arts would stop listening to music, stop watching films. I want them to take the arts out of their lives, and see how they like it. Because the arts is like food --we need it," Niven said.
WHS holds holiday craft fair
Whittell High School will host its holiday craft fair this Friday at Saturday from 1-5 p.m. in the high school's commons located at 240 Warrior Way in Zephyr Cove. The fair features homemade holiday gifts, decorations and craft making. For more information, contact Kim Felton at 775-588-3121.
STHS hosts a Stars Night Out
Stars Night Out, a celebration gala to benefit the performing arts, will take place Friday, Dec. 14, from 5-7 p.m. at the South Tahoe High School student union located at 1735 Lake Tahoe Blvd. Food, drinks and a silent auction will be followed at 7 p.m. "White Christmas." Tickets cost $30 per person.
Teen slumber party to take place on New Year's Eve
eFit and Sports will host an all-night teen slumber party starting at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 and ending at 10 a.m. on Jan. 1. Teens can enjoy dancing, live music, black jack, obstacle course, laser tag, dodgeball and movies. Dinner and breakfast are included with the $40 fee. For more information, call 775-291-6032.