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Chantilly's 'Big' Is Set to Sparkle

Play features student directors and choreographers.

Besides an entertaining story, terrific songs and talented actors, Chantilly High's production of "Big, the Musical" also boasts two student directors and two student choreographers.

The student directors are Kate McGinnis and Leanne Williams, and the student choreographers are Chloe West and Shannon Moore. With a cast of 51, they have their work cut out for them, but they're rising to the challenge.

"I love it; I'd definitely do it again," said West. And, added Moore, "It really pays off in the end because the final product is so good."

SHOWTIMES are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-11, at 7 p.m. each night, in the school auditorium. Tickets are $10 at www.chantillyhsdrama.com, at the door, or the week of Nov. 6 in the cafeteria from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Seniors Moore and West, both 17, have several years of dance experience, and they're translating it to the stage. "I've been dancing jazz, tap and ballet since I was 5," said Moore. "I've been classically trained in ballet and lyrical dance and jazz," said West. "But hip hop is definitely my favorite form of dance and I pulled moves from everything I've done and seen to be part of this show."

Moore also takes hip hop currently and, for this production, she's modified her routines so she could teach them to the actors. "The hardest part of choreography is that a lot of the actors have never had dance training," said West.

"They're amazing singers, but they couldn't dance," she continued. "So we had to take these awesome and beautiful dance moves that are eye-catching, and simplify them — but still make them into a dance that's fun to watch."

However, said West, "The show has a dance ensemble that knows how to dance, and Shannon and I can play with them and make them do neat moves."

"What was hard for me was freestyle dancing and then saying, 'Oh, that looks cool,' and figuring out how to teach it and put it into the show," said Moore. "I like when everybody gets it down, and I'm watching it and it works. Then I'm like, 'Wow, they're getting it — it's awesome — and they listened to me.'"

West, too, loves the moment when everything clicks and the cast is having fun "because you know that, when showtime comes around, the audience's energy will boost the dancers' energy and make the show even more enjoyable for everyone. And that's what any choreographer wants to happen."

Besides that, she said, many of the actors' physical moves were so comedic that it was lots of fun to choreograph for them. The pair has been working on the dance moves since early September and, said Moore, "There was a lot of pre-planning and brainstorming for ideas."

"I'd be thinking about songs while at my desk, looking at a script," said West. "And I'd dance at work; I'm a hostess at Sweetheart's in Greenbriar. We also practiced at the theater and then at Chloe's house."

Student directors McGinnis, 16, and Williams, 17, have also worked on the show since September. "In the first rehearsals, I took blocking notes so, if kids forgot where to cross or stand, they could come to me," explained McGinnis, a junior. "Now I take notes for Mrs. K [director Shannon Khatcheressian] during the show; for example, 'This person needs to yell louder' or 'Tell Leanne the costume doesn't work for this.'"

AND IF A SCENE or song needs to be worked on, said McGinnis, "Leanne and/or I will take that group out in the hall to practice so everyone else doesn't have to sit there while, for example, four people go through a scene. Leanne's more in charge of costuming; I'm more the go-to girl and blocking and doing all the little things for Mrs. K."

McGinnis also considers it a learning experience for herself to see how a show becomes a reality. "There are so many layers," she said. "And I'd never seen the behind-the-scenes, director's point of view. I'm a Type A, organized person, so this is good for me; I love it."

She said the hardest part is balancing the directing with the other parts of her life — "getting my homework done and spending time with my friends and family." The best part is "hanging out with everyone in the theater department and seeing how a musical is put together."

As for "Big, the Musical," McGinnis says it's definitely something for the whole family. "Parents and teen-agers will relate to the characters," she said. "In one scene, some suburban teens are trying to rap, and it's just hilarious."

Williams, a senior, plays music during rehearsals so the actors can practice their singing and dancing. She also does various tasks for Khatcheressian — making copies of music, reviewing songs and blocking with the actors and making sure things are set up for a scene. She's also the costumer, aided by student Kendra McCullough.

"I made a list of what each character has to bring in to wear," explained Williams. "And if they don't have it, I have to find it. Then we see what works and what doesn't. There are also a lot of quick, 20-second changes for the two main characters, so I have to figure out how they can layer their clothes and where they can change and not be out in the open."

For instance, she said, "Jake [Ashey, who plays the lead] has to go from jeans and a sweatshirt to a complete suit and tie in about 30 seconds. So we'll set up different stations, like a staircase or a screen, where he can change. And their costumes have to be there when they need them, so I have to figure out how they can get on and off quickly, before and after changing, based on where Mrs. K. did the blocking."

Still, Williams is thrilled with her job. "This is the first year I've had the time to be at all the rehearsals, so I'm finally able to be more involved in the department without having to be on stage," she said. "It's nice to bond with all the cast members, and it's nice to see it all come together and know that we had a part in it."