By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer
Dressed in flip flops and shorts with an aroma of teen spirit in the air, students acting in the upcoming production of Swain County High School’s “Beauty and the Beast” are eager to recapture the magic of last year’s performance.
J Gilbert, the director/chorus and drama teacher at Swain County High School, calls the cast to gather around the stage. With the musical script in hand, Gilbert goes over upcoming cues.
“Beast takes Belle to the library, and I need all principles on stage,” Gilbert said.
There is a mutual respect and admiration for the production among these teens. The students want to be here and are keen to show off their best.
This will be the 10th show presented by Swain County High School and the first time a production has been repeated.
“Being a Disney film and a beloved tale that everybody knows and having so many kids come back, it seemed like the right choice,” Gilbert said.
With nine of the 12 principle actors returning from last year’s show, Gilbert felt an encore performance was eminent.
“I feel strongly this is the show we are suppose to do, and we want to recapture the magic of last year and do an even better show,” Gilbert said.
The director thought it would have been easier to reprise the production, but it’s proving just as challenging.
Gilbert has upgraded every scene in the musical, and added some dance numbers as well as revamped the set.
“Okay guys. Same place at the beginning of the song. Are you ready?” Gilbert announced to the cast as he cued the music.
There will be total of 48 students performing in the production with the lead acting parts portrayed by students from Gilbert’s vocal ensemble classes.
From building the sets to painting the scenery and playing in the band, there are a total of 100 students directly involved in “Beauty and the Beast.”
The support and volunteers from the community are another huge factor in the pride and enthusiasm of this musical, according to Gilbert.
On average the performance sold 400 seats a night last year in an auditorium that holds just under 500 seats equipped with a state-of-the art sound system.
“We’re starting on page 52 when Babette meets Lumiere on the steps,” Gilbert said.
A student from behind the curtain shouts out “Quiet on the set” while the cast gets in place. Students working on a trap door for Beast’s transformation scene stop using their screw guns while the students rehearse.
Half of the principle cast has plans to major or minor in theatre when enrolling in college.
The students took this year’s revised production to heart by looking for ways to improve and relish moments during their performances.
They took notes while watching a video of last year’s production to offer feedback to each other before rehearsals began.
“There are huge expectations to live up to after the show last year,” said Anna Burns, who is playing Babette.
“We really want to get people to come back and see it again,” Seth Crockett who is portraying Lefou shared. “It’s a second chance to fix and improve things.”
“We are a lot more comfortable with the characters and each other,” John Williamson who is playing Maurice added.
Robert Lowe who is playing the clock confirmed he is on a quest to perfect his British accent.
When asked to describe their production of “Beauty and the Beast” in one word, the teens shared “beastly,” “magical,” “enchanting,” and “awesome.”
A Louisiana native, Gilbert has resided in the Bryson City and Cherokee area for 35 years and taught at Swain County High School for 20 years.
Gilbert started the drama program in 1989 and instructs three drama and chorus classes every year among directing a theatrical performance in the fall and the spring musical.
Gilbert’s motto is “practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes better.”
As a director the moment he savors the most happens on the opening night of a performance when the students are on the stage for the first time embracing the audience’s reaction.
“It can’t be taught or explained. It’s a unique thing,” Gilbert said.
Looking forward to sharing the experience of telling a tale as old as time, Gilbert believes in the message of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“It’s amazing that it’s not trite, “ Gilbert said. “Beauty really is on the inside and not on the outside.”