Schoolhouse Rock, the classic animated educational TV show, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In a poetic twist of fate, Regent University is currently rehearsing its own version of Schoolhouse Rock Live to perform later this month. Showing in the Dede Robertson Theatre, the play is scheduled for April 13-15 at 7:30 pm and April 15-16 at 2:30 pm.
The Daily Runner recently interviewed some of the Regent crew members to get an inside look at the challenges of creating this nostalgic performance.
Stage manager, Sam Settle, shared that one of her biggest challenges is adjusting to the large quantity of choreography in the play. Part of her job as stage manager is to act as the liaison between the cast and technical crews, which includes knowing when to cue lights, sounds, and props in relation to the choreography. However, she said it has been difficult to “write out choreography for a production that’s 90% choreography and communicate it to others clearly.”
Choreographer and assistant director Caitlyn Fitzhugh agreed with Sam that the choreography has proven to be an obstacle for this specific performance. She explained that it is hard to translate the exact choreography from Schoolhouse Rock for the play because the characters in the original show are cartoons. Cartoon characters have no limitations and can contort their bodies in unrealistic ways. Her job is to strike the balance between preserving the iconic scenes while recognizing her dancers are human and respecting their physical limitations.
John Forkner, the director of Schoolhouse Rock, expressed his constant dilemma of assessing what parts of the show to include in the play. Live performances cannot use cut scenes like TV, so he works closely with the creative team to use props and costumes that will spark clarity for the audience. He is looking to create moments that create instant audience recognition of key scenes in the show. Forkner mentioned that there are currently plans in the works to create a ‘Bill from Capitol Hill’ costume, which is simply one example of ways he hopes to bring to life the nostalgia of these iconic characters.
All the crew members shared the same challenge of running on a condensed schedule, which can put a strain on the cast members. Due to the various events scheduled throughout the spring semester, Schoolhouse Rock was placed on a very fast timeline, with daily rehearsals lasting several hours. This intense pace puts more pressure on the student performers to learn their roles faster while still maintaining their work, school, and personal schedules.
Despite the quick pace, the directors have found a system that is helping them make significant progress. Forkner said clear communication is the number one priority, and nothing can happen without it. Fitzhugh added to this and explained that she will be on the phone with Forkner all day every day, bouncing ideas back and forth and discussing the next steps.
Laughing, she explained that he will often say, “I had a great idea, and I want you to run with it.” It is then her job to try out the choreography in her own body and see how it flows. Once she is happy with the movement, she gives it to the cast members, who take it a step further and add that final element to create a dynamic scene.
When asked about their favorite songs from Schoolhouse Rock, Settle said “Elbow Room” because of the choreography for the play, and Ezekiel Adams, assistant stage manager, said he likes “Suffrage” because of the upbeat tune.
Forkner noted that, while he preferred the faster songs when he was a kid, he now appreciates the math songs as an adult. He elaborated that “Multiplication Rocks” was the first Schoolhouse Rock season, produced in 1973. This marked the birth of the educational song era, and viewers can see the roughness in the math songs. “Multiplication Rocks” lacked the formulaic success of future seasons of Schoolhouse Rock, yet the fresh ideas and the amount of heart present give it an indescribable quality that he respects as a theater person. He concluded that the “granola folk rock” vibes and the “risky edge” in the math songs make them his favorite.
Fitzhugh quickly replied that “Figure 8” was her ultimate favorite because it’s unlike all the other songs. Describing it as a “beautiful ballad,” her love for this song inspired her to craft something special for the play, which she said will stay a surprise until the play is performed in April.
When considering what they wanted people to know about this play before its performance, the stage managers agreed that nostalgia was a driving factor behind the creation of the play. Settle remarked, “[The] 90s kid in me is freaking out, I grew up on Schoolhouse Rock so now seeing it transformed into a play is cool.” Adams added that it is based very accurately on the cartoons.
Along the same lines, Fitzhugh described the play as a “slick production” and Forkner explained that this play is for people who love the Schoolhouse Rock songs. “Schoolhouse Rock is sophisticated and does not patronize people’s intelligence. It is a great show for a blast into the past.” They both ended with the idea that this play is a true “love letter to late Boomers, Gen X, and early Millennials.”
After speaking with the crew members and watching a rehearsal, it is clear that everyone involved with the production of Schoolhouse Rock is dedicated to creating a theatrical masterpiece that combines the nostalgia of childhood with the fresh perspective of adulthood. It is fueled by their passion and determination to create a tribute to the show that raised an entire generation.
If you have not purchased tickets to see Schoolhouse Rock, I highly encourage you to do so before they sell out. Get your tickets online here or by calling the Box Office at 757-352-4245.
Tickets: Adults $20.75 | *Discount $18.75 | Regent students $11
*Discount price available for seniors, active military, children (5-18), students w/ID, CBN employees, Regent employees, and alumni.