New director brings focus, dedication to MCHS musical/theater group
November 8, 2010
Kat Thompson, a Moffat County High School junior, has high hopes for the school's upcoming production of the "The Sound of Music."
"I hope it's as big as 'Beauty and the Beast,'" Thompson said. "We need to make money."
Thompson will star as Maria when "The Sound of Music" opens Nov. 18, beginning a three-day run at the MCHS auditorium. She and a group of students, ranging from ages 5 to 17, have been rehearsing since early September.
The young actors, new program director Heather Dahlberg said, might turn things around this year.
In years past, the musical/theater group has suffered lackluster ticket sales, Thompson said.
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"'Crazy for You' didn't bring in a ton of money," she said. "And 'Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat)' brought in just a little bit more.
"We're hoping this one will bring in money, because we need new stuff."
Band director John Bolton shares that assessment.
"We stuffed the coffers with 'Beauty and the Beast,' so, yeah, we've been living off it," Bolton said.
Bolton said there are two reasons to feel optimistic about this year's production.
The first reason is the show itself.
"It is 'The Sound of Music,'" Bolton said. "It is the bestselling movie musical. And, it is one of the bestselling Broadway musicals. It's just one of the ones that set the stage for everything that came after it. It's a wonderful piece."
The second is the director, Dahlberg.
"She has got this show figured out in every facet," Bolton said. "It's all in her noggin. She has been eating, drinking, sleeping this show since we hired her."
Dahlberg, originally from Minneapolis, Minn., is in her first year in the Moffat County School District.
Her last job was on a cruise ship in Palm Beach, Fla., where she performed for seven years as a cabaret artist. Now, she teaches choir to students at MCHS and Craig Middle School.
Dahlberg said she's aware the last few musicals at MCHS underperformed financially.
However, "The Sound of Music" is primed to do well.
"You've got to look at a community, and you've got to know what sells," Dahlberg said. "This is a very traditional community, and a traditional community is going to want to see traditional shows."
And while "The Sound of Music" makes sense for Craig, it's noticeable that the new director has some eccentricities.
She wore tights and legwarmers at Wednesday's rehearsal, clutching a venti cup of Starbucks coffee. Her long, blond hair swayed back and forth as she encouraged her students to sing louder, stand straighter and act with purpose.
But, while Dahlberg acknowledges she's a bit unconventional, she's quick to point out that she's more grounded than flighty.
"I'm actually very conservative," she said. "A theater person who's conservative. How rare is that?"
Dahlberg said she approaches her job seriously.
"I'm an artist, and I believe in it," she said. "But, I'm also a dichotomy because I'm highly anal-retentive, highly organized and I believe in an intense work ethic."
As evidence, Dahlberg cited her philosophy on casting.
"This is the first year that not everybody has made it," she said. "I'm different. I believe that kids need to prepare and audition, and earn their way in.
"This is my world, this is my white carpet, and so I took kids that I saw potential in."
After the casting was complete, rehearsals began, and Dahlberg's work ethic was again on display.
MCHS junior Jordyn Caddy said Dahlberg has been working toward a clear vision.
"She wants to keep everything very direct," Caddy said. "She wants everything exact."
Junior Caleb Lee agreed.
"She knows when to get down to business," he said.
Dahlberg said she employs several strategies to motivate students.
"I use all sorts of tactics," she said. "Sometimes I use comedy, sometimes I use sarcasm, and sometimes I get right in their face and say, 'And you don't know your lines because … ?'"
Dahlberg said criticism is part of the acting game.
"I've had directors swear at me, I've had directors try to make me cry, and I guess I have thick enough skin now that I'm like, 'That's the business,'" Dahlberg said. "If you want to be better and you have a professional director yelling at you and you're not doing it, then you better darn well practice and get it done. That's the way I think we should train our children."
Bolton agrees that Dahlberg is tough.
"Her overall intentions would be very much like what a football coach would do," he said. "They're not going to cut you any slack, but they're going to let you enjoy the fruit of that hard work.
"Ultimately, the kids are going to feel good about a product that is high quality, more so than if she's pampering them saying nice things."
The students said they appreciate Dahlberg's tough tutelage.
"She's probably the best director this school has ever had," Lee said.
"She's the bomb-bomb diggity," said Briana Woods, a kindergartner from Sunset Elementary School.
Dahlberg said the feeling is mutual.
"They're great kids. How could you not love them?" she said. "They're comic and smart butts, and most of them are really willing to take my criticism as a professional actress and apply it and become better actors and actresses.
"That is my goal — that they walk out of this production better than when they walked in."
As for the production itself, Courtney Smith, a third-grader at Sandrock Elementary School, feels confident.
"I say this play is going to be freaking awesome," Smith said.