After isolation and fear of the unknown during the pandemic, the cast and crew of the upcoming Verona Area Community Theater production are ready to feel “human” again, just like the characters from his show arriving at the Performing Arts Center of Badger Ridge Middle School.
The next show from the community theater group is “Beauty and the Beast,” based on the award-winning 1991 Disney animated film. It is set for six shows between this weekend and next.
The story is filled with characters who all feel trapped, be it a prince in the body of a beast, a woman in that beast’s castle or the ex-prince’s butlers, cooks and maids now all trapped as objects. like a clock, a candlestick, and a teapot.
“The show itself and the timing really impressed me at this point,” co-director Shannon Seip told the press. “They seemed like good themes to try directing.”
While Seip directed other area productions and directed two virtual student productions with VACT during the pandemic, this is the first time he has directed an in-person show for VACT. It is also his first co-direction.
She was joined in the director’s chair by Mattie Isaac. Their friend Amanda Reichhold is the musical director. Reichhold is a music teacher in the Oregon School District.
The three quickly became friends as they starred side-by-side in VACT’s January 2020 production of “Mamma Mia,” in which they played the three members of the female band Donna and the Dynamos, central characters of the show.
None of those involved in that production knew that the pandemic would soon lead to a year and a half of disruption to in-person shows.
Seip grew up acting and had been in several shows prior to “Mama Mia”. She said she feels blessed to have been chosen to help bring Beauty and the Beast to life, calling it a highlight of her year.
“I thought, ‘I love this company, I love this community, I have something I can contribute with,'” he said.
She spent many years professionally both in the spotlight and behind the scenes, first as a journalist and host for WKOW-TV News (channel 27), and then as the co-founder of Bean Sprouts Café, a health-focused restaurant chain for kids’ food. , which has since grown to 19 locations in nine states, including one at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
While his days of hunting for tornadoes in Oklahoma with meteorologist Bob Lindmeier are behind him, co-directing a theatrical production with over 70 cast and choir is something of a whirlwind.
It helped that she has stayed close to Isaac and Reichhold for the past two and a half years.
Before the pandemic, they would go out for drinks a few times and during the pandemic they would have happy hours of Zoom videos together.
“We’ve been really in touch,” Seip said. “At the end of a show, actors usually say ‘we have to keep in touch’ and they have big intentions but they don’t, but we actually did.”
Both of Seip’s parents died in 2020 and Reichhold’s father also recently passed away, during which time the three women supported each other.
“It’s been a really tough time with losses in our families, so doing something positive together after the last few years has been very meaningful for us,” Seip said.
This particular production has captured the interest of more people outside of Verona than VACT shows usually do, Seip said, and about a quarter or a third of the cast are performing in a VACT show for the first time. including the actor who plays the Beast.
“We had a huge turnout at the auditions, it’s really encouraging that people have wanted to take part in bringing the arts back to Verona,” said Seip.
Rehearsals began in April and take place three evenings a week, for a total of about eight hours per week.
“I’ve worked with theaters that do 20 hours of rehearsals a week, but VACT’s mission is to be accessible – not overwhelming – to engage the community, and VACT does it really well,” Seip said. “He has created a wonderful family.”
That family extends beyond the cast to the crew as the costume director.
“I can’t make a costume to save my life,” Seip said. “I can’t imagine the amount of coordination for the costume on this show. Not everything fits on a hanger, like a three-dimensional dresser you wear. Other costumes look so iconic: you know what Belle and the Beast look like, you know Belle’s yellow dress and her blue dress. It is trivial to think about how much work it takes. I am so thankful.
Just as the upcoming show itself features a mix of adult and young actors in the chorus, the different directors have connected to the different generations of the film.
For Seip, the original 1991 film came out while she was in high school and she said he has a soft spot for her since her teens, but Isaac feels more connected with the 2017 remake.
“They’re different approaches to characters and costumes,” Seip said. “Same story, different interpretations”.
As there are two Disney film versions of the musical, and VACT has performed the show twice before: in 2006 and in an abbreviated “Jr”. version in 2011 – it was important for directors to offer a new interpretation.
“The show has been done so many times, we’ve really put our heads together to come up with something new,” Seip said. “I loved that creative process. We have a beautiful digital background, and as someone who loved the animated film so much, to see the iconic castle outside or inside Belle’s bedroom or the huge bottles of champagne bursting, you feel immersed. “
This version of the story offers some changes from the movies, he said. The Enchantress is woven more and more of the teacup family are shown besides just Mrs. Potts and Chip.
For parents who want to take their kids to the live theater, Seip said this is a great performance to watch, including beloved songs and favorite characters, who meet in the lobby after the show.
“It’s a magical experience for children, I encourage families to come,” she said.
But the most important thing for her, after the loss of her parents and the gloom of the pandemic, was to see the bond happening under the stage lights.
“It is very moving to see the new cast members arrive and all the relationships and friendships that are formed,” said Seip. “And people laugh too. It was so dark for the past two years, but there is happiness again in the VACT building. “