Second Act Theater Company

The only student-run theater group in the city stages a musical at Southwest

When Southwest High School senior David Jewette got the idea of forming a student-run theater company to perform one more musical before graduation, the typical response from his teachers and Principal Bill Smith was, "I don’t think you can pull it off, but it’s worth a try."

Of all the theatrical genres, the musical is perhaps the most challenging. It requires performers who can not only act but sing and dance, not to mention an orchestra.

Though fellow seniors Allison Dickinson and Kaila Frymire thought Jewette’s idea was crazy, they agreed to co-direct a production, and thus Second Act Theater Company, the only student-run theater troupe in Minneapolis, was launched.

This month Second Act will stage its first production, "Bye Bye, Birdie."

Over 60 Southwest students auditioned for the cast of 40. Students Garrett Peterson and Elise Peterson play the lead roles and sophomore Eric Sayre will make his debut as the director of the pit orchestra of 15 musicians.

"There were a lot of kids who didn’t get the opportunity to be in ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ which the school’s music department produced in winter," Jewette said. "This is another opportunity for kids to perform."

The senior, who will be attending Harvard this fall, also noted that "The annual musical usually wears out three or four faculty members at school, and we had the audacity to say that we wanted to do this ourselves without much of a

safety net."

Behind the scenes

While Jewette has performed in four Southwest High School musicals, is a choral member of the Southwest Singers and plays the trumpet, he said he prefers to be behind the scenes.

As producer, the Wedge resident has handled publicity, made calls to local businesses seeking ads for their playbill, and obtained the building permits for the rehearsal spaces and the auditorium. He was also instrumental in getting grants from the Southwest Music Boosters and the school’s PTA.

Those grants helped cover the $900 in royalties for the right to perform the show six times, and the other $400 to rent the sheet music and the books with the actor’s lines.

"We looked through catalogues of musicals when trying to decide which play to do," said Jewette. "Even though it is a classic, ‘Bye Bye, Birdie’ was more of a business decision than an artistic one."

With many roles to fill, Jewette knew the play would draw a wide base of support as cast members’ friends and relatives came to see them perform. Also, he said, "When we watched the video and read the script, we knew that it would fill seats."

The musical comedy, written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, opened in New York City in 1960 starring Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera. Rock idol Conrad Birdie is about to be drafted into the U.S. Army (just as Elvis Presley was in 1958), and will take one last kiss on the then-popular "Ed Sullivan Show" from a young female member of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club before going off to boot camp. When Kim McAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio, is chosen, the town is turned upside down.

Doing it their way

Co-director Dickinson, a Linden Hills resident, has performed in Southwest musicals before, but this is her first time directing.

To prepare for cast members’ questions, co-directors Dickinson and Frymire read the script four times. She said her troupe has been rehearsing three hours a day for the past month.

Regardless of "Bye Bye, Birdie’s" financial or artistic outcome, Dickinson said its production has been a great learning experience. At times, being in charge has proven to be a challenge — "I have a lot more respect for my teachers now,"

she said.

She was also thankful for her co-director Frymire’s experience, Frymire had once directed a church production, "It’s good to have the checks and balances of two directors. We want to make

it the best it can be," Dickinson said.

Since the original script was written over 40 years ago, the senior co-directors took the liberty of editing it to be more

in keeping with new millennium values.

The duo cut a dance number, "The Shriners’ Ballet," because they saw it as a symbolic rape scene inappropriate for a high school play. (In the scene, a group of Shriners in a basement chase a young woman around the room.)

Several lines that might have been construed as racial slurs towards one of the female Hispanic characters were also stricken.

Southwest vocal music and keyboards instructor Nancy Lee directs the school’s official, annual musical. Lee said staging a musical is "a really big undertaking, but if anybody can do it these guys can. . . . The faculty is here to encourage them, and if they need our help we are available; but as of yet, they haven’t asked."

Jewette, Dickinson and Frymire will soon graduate and hope some underclassmen will continue what Second Act began. They hope "Bye Bye, Birdie" sells well, so they can leave them some money in their budget for a production next spring.

"Bye Bye, Birdie" will be performed Fridays, May 21 and 28, at 7 p.m. and Saturdays, May 22 and 29, at 2 and 7 p.m in the theater of Southwest High School. Admission is $5 for students and $7 for adults.