“If you're supposed to be in a freeze, you bloody well better be in a freeze!” shouts Rosy Ridenour at a recent rehearsal at Wayne High School for its spring show, “Dracula the Musical?”
She interrupts herself frequently midconversation to shove two fingers in her mouth, whistle and yell directions at the young actors onstage.
“Truly, I'm not a scary person,” she says by way of explaining her outbursts. And the kids onstage seem to take it in stride.
Ridenour is a passionate person and has high expectations for the budding thespians.
“All I ask them to do is the best they can do,” she says.
A familiar face in local community theater, Ridenour also was the theater coach at Elmhurst High School before it closed in 2010. Then she was asked to coach theater at Wayne High School, which had no theater program when she arrived there three years ago.
“As I understand it, Wayne High School had a truly wonderful theater group some years back, and for whatever reason, possibly retirements, it was discontinued,” Ridenour says.
It was her job to resurrect it. She enlisted the help of several adults — “the cream of the crop” — including Tish Sack, who does the vocal music and plays music for the shows; Larry True, the choreographer; David Ball, set designer; and Vicky Walchle, who does costumes.
“The first audition brought in three students,” Ridenour says. “There were more of the theater staff than the actor-wannabes. I guess we were just too stubborn to say 'die.'”
Despite being “woefully underfunded,” the program has thrived. “Our little program limped along and started building student support and pride and is still growing,” she says.
Eighteen students tried out this year for “Dracula the Musical?” which has a cast of 12. The students come from Wayne and New Tech, a high school within the walls of Wayne that focuses on project-based learning. The show is a musical comedy about Dracula moving in next to an insane asylum.
Many of the students have never acted or performed before, says True, the choreographer. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
“It's a blank slate, so you don't have to worry about bad habits,” he says. However, some of the students have to be taught even basic moves, such as a jazz square.
“This is grass-roots theater,” he says. “The kids have worked very hard.”
Their enthusiasm makes up for their lack of experience.
“These kids all want to be here,” True says. “That's what makes the difference for us.”
Ridenour says the shows at Wayne have gotten progressively better. One problem she battles is getting the students to project their voices more.
“They need to give themselves permission to start performing,” she says.
Again, she interrupts a conversation to shout, “More energetic!” to the actors rehearsing onstage.
Both True and Ridenour share a passion for providing the theater experience to youths. True says it's “one of those 'give back' things.”
Ridenour believes students benefit from getting involved in theater.
“I love theater and what it can do for the students, with confidence building, poise and responsibility,” she says.
Theater experience can give students “the confidence to look an employer in the eye at a job interview,” she says. It provides an outlet for students who aren't athletically inclined.
“Kids really need this,” she says. “They need the arts.”
And they're supported and nurtured by Ridenour and the other adults.
“Theater is a wholesome, safe environment and I would like to believe we can offer our experience and friendship to the students,” she says. “I like knowing that each of these students, even if they never walk on another stage, can tell their children and grandchildren, 'I did the school play at Wayne, yep, right up there on that stage.'”
And so what do the student actors think of Ridenour and her style of directing?
If body language were a good indicator, it would appear New Tech freshman MacKenzie Riley, who plays, Bubu, was frustrated and tired at a recent rehearsal when Ridenour kept having the actors rehearse a particular song. Riley stood on the stage, arms crossed, unsmiling, and dutifully rehearsed the number over and over.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Asked during a break in the rehearsal how she felt about Ridenour and her directing style, Riley smiled and said, “She's so sweet. She's awesome.”
And as for all the time spent rehearsing?
“It's totally worth it,” Riley said.