To help us better understand the benefits of working in theater, APN put the cast of Cairo-Durham High School’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” into the spotlight.
How do you cope with stage fright?
Emily Cooke (Millie Dillmount): I pretend it’s a race. I stand center stage and warm up my body, voice, stretch out, crack my knuckles and jump up and down a few times.
Cheyenne Conti (Miss Dorothy Brown): I’ve found that it becomes easier to cope with this nervousness each time I perform. I remind myself of the positive aspects of performing rather than focus on being nervous. The more that I focus on being nervous, the more likely I am to overthink things and make mistakes. Instead, I try to have fun and think of how all my hard work has prepared me for this moment.
Sophie Estep (Muzzy Van Hossmere): As a young performer you are accompanied by the rest of the chorus, which really helps prepare you for your solo debut. The extent of my stage fright in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was being worried about tripping in my long dress and high heels.
What techniques do you use to memorize lines?
Cooke (Millie Dillmount): For long monologues, I write them out, and for others, I say them with motions over and over again. With a huge part like Millie (over 200 lines), I had to work scenes by scene.
Conti (Miss Dorothy Brown): When I’m handed a script, I usually read through the whole thing first, then go back to highlight all lines and actions that have to do with my character. Once all of my lines are highlighted, I go through the script page by page. After I read the page, I cover up the lines and read the dialogue that occurs before my lines in order to memorize my cues. After I read my cue, I try my best to state my line out loud while still having it covered until I have memorized it perfectly. Once I have my lines memorized, I have a family member or friend read the other lines so that I can practice my own.
Estep (Muzzy Van Hossmere): My character in the show was the only (one) with extended monologues. I felt that memorization came best to me when I worked with the person (performing) in the same scene. We’d do the scene together with our scripts, then off-script.
Have you ever had to recover from an embarrassing moment on stage?
Cooke (Millie Dillmount):One day during last year’s play, “Bye Bye Birdie,” I was hit in the face with his (Conrad Birdie’s) guitar. This year I have fallen off a desk on wheels, but I played along with it like it was supposed to happen, took a quick breath and continued on. I can laugh or cry of embarrassment backstage, but improvising can be your best friend in situations like that.
Conti (Miss Dorothy Brown): This year was my first year having to do a stage kiss for a show. The first time we kissed in front of the rest of the cast during a rehearsal, a majority of them didn’t even know that our characters had to kiss, so many were caught off guard. I could hear people gasp, laugh, and even whistle, and it took all I could not to laugh and break character.
Estep (Muzzy Van Hossmere): This year my hat was knocked off while Erin Feeney tried to untie my gag. We both started to giggle, but we regained our composure and kept the scene going. Being on stage, anything can happen, and you have to be ready for dropped lines or technological failures. One time, in “Bye Bye Birdie,” our director never played the telephone sound that broke up the scene. After an awkward pause, I ad-libbed a line about making a phone and was able to keep the scene moving. You learn to keep rolling.
How do these skills help you outside of the play?
Cooke (Millie Dillmount): Knowing how to mask my emotions definitely helps me in everyday life and really has taught me how to work with everyone with a smile on my face. Being in a show also teaches you that you have to be very independent in knowing your stuff but dependent on others to play off of.
Conti (Miss Dorothy Brown): I’m able to think quickly and improvise when needed, and thoroughly listen, as well as properly react to others. These skills are essential in theater in order to create a believable performance. Improvising is helpful in life outside of the play because things don’t always go (as) expected, and it’s important to be able to adjust appropriately when things take a different turn.
Estep (Muzzy Van Hossmere): You learn so much about music, patience, and teamwork through these musicals. Your cast becomes your second family during the months of late nights and shared grumpiness. In the end, you are left with something you can all be proud of. You really learn to appreciate all the endless rehearsals and grueling music harmonies, the laughs during intermissions and silly photos backstage.
Why would you recommend this experience to others?
Cooke (Millie Dillmount): Being in a production of any size is something that will stick with your forever. Your cast, crew and directors become an extended family; full of jokes, love and yes, also drama, but you have each other’s back and make unbreakable friendships. Every show I’m in pushes me as a person in a different way. I always come out a stronger, more confident person.
Conti (Miss Dorothy Brown): Being a part of a musical allows one to become a part of something very big and meaningful. Each individual plays a key role in the success of the show. If one person is not present in rehearsal or at one of the shows, it makes it difficult to continue, making each role essential, no matter how big or small.The bonds created during a show can last for a lifetime, and the sense of pride felt after hearing the applause of an audience at the end of a performance is enough to boost anyone’s self confidence.
Estep (Muzzy Van Hossmere): To all of the middle schoolers thinking about picking up music or being in the musical, I am a full supporter. It makes me so excited to see the next influx of kids like me, and I am always enthusiastic when I talk to them about our music/drama department. It is a wonderful experience for companionship, belonging and the ability to learn something special to share with all. Music stays with you throughout your life in abilities and memories alike.