Over the past four years the Madison High School drama department has seen four different directors.
And senior Brandon Belote has worked with all of them. Belote, a member of the technical crew, said that whenever a new director comes in, that director brings a new set of ideas.
“It’s constant change,” he said. “Something that drove me nuts was the use of the curtain. During my freshman and sophomore year we used it. During my junior and senior years we haven’t. When the new director came in my junior year, and said, ‘I don’t use the curtain,’ I said, ‘You don’t use the curtain? You gotta use the curtain.’”
Belote’s freshman year was the year Kurt Somers, eight-year director of the department, left Madison. During Somers’ term, the school won several awards and was known throughout the state, Belote said.
“FOR ALL THOSE YEARS things had been done the same way,” Belote said. “And the way he did it was great. I wanted to keep it that way, so when I was a freshman I talked some of the older people, the people who were graduating, and they told me what worked.”
Belote has helped keep certain traditions alive in the department. Just before a show opening the cast and crew get into a circle, hold hands, and share the nervous excitement they are feeling. And, the members of the technical crew make sure to drink high-caffeine, high-sugar Jolt Cola before each opening night.
“The week before a show is called hell week,” Belote said. “We are there from the beginning of school until 10 p.m. On opening night we are dead tired but need to be awake. So we make sure someone goes out and buys Jolt.”
This year Natalie Vandever is the new director of the Madison theater department. During the first few days of the school year, Belote and Vandever had two long talks, which took around two hours each. The two tried to reach a consensus over the direction of the department. She said that, at the beginning of the year, the students would “kind of sit back and observe.” But as she introduced some team building exercises, her students started to come out of their shells.
“It’s got to be a safe place where they trust not only me, but the other students in the class,” Vandever said. “You might enjoy the technical work, or set design. But no matter what job you do, you need to communicate in front of a large group of people.”
WHEN SHE FIRST STARTED the year, Vandever said she “was a little defensive.” She said her students were also slightly defensive.
“We would both say, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’” Vandever said.
But, as the year continued, Vandever relinquished some control. For the upcoming production of “FAME”, the musical, she has given the students, especially those in the technical crew, more responsibility.
“They’ve earned my trust because they are so responsible,” Vandever said. “I’ve handed it over and they have proved to me they can do it.”
Freshman Laura Bacon, a set designer, said the students have gradually assumed more independence.
“We just started doing more stuff,” Bacon said. “Before, for example, she [Vandever] would order the wood and we would just build the sets. Now we order the wood, figure out the price and everything.”
Belote, who is the technical director for “FAME”, said that during Madison theater classes Vandever works primarily with the actors, while members of the technical crew figure things out for themselves.
“FAME”, the musical will open on April 11, 7:30 p.m., with performances at the same time on April 12 and 13. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on April 13. Tickets for all performances are eight dollars at the door.
Vandever said the musical is different from both the movie and play versions of the show. Last year the department did “Little Shop of Horrors,” which had upbeat music sequences and garnered 10 Cappies nominations this year. Vandever chose “FAME,” which is also heavy on singing and dancing, to capitalize on the strengths of the department.