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For 25 years, groups of St. Norbert students have combined their skills to put on a full-length musical as part of the student organization Knight Theatre. This year, St. Norbert College Magazine was invited to pull back the curtain and witness the hard work, comradery and creativity that went into the group’s production of “The Addams Family.”

Holding the Stage

Zac Dickhut ’19 as Gomez: I’m not going to mess up my lyrics this time.
Vocal director Elle Dannecker ’19: But I appreciate that you came back from it.
Dickhut: I was not going to let that thing sink!

Join us as we peek behind the scenes at the months of prep work, weeks of 10- to 12-hour rehearsal days and sheer creative joy of producing a full-length musical with your college mates. Ladies and gentlemen: We bring you your student-led, student-directed, 25th anniversary production of Knight Theatre’s “The Addams Family.” 

The audition
The checklist is short: two solos and a monologue. That’s all the aspiring actors need to bring to their auditions. Sing portions of two solos and recite an excerpt of a monologue – all while being judged by your peers.

John Dicks ’20, Knight Theatre producer, uses a warm voice to welcome each student into the choir room and to explain how the audition – and its aftermath: casting decisions – will run. Other members of the production team (artistic director Annicka Rabida ’21, vocal director Elle Dannecker ’19, pit director Erin Hanke ’19, stage manager Kathryn Verheyden ’21) wait with open laptops and reassuring smiles. Michael Rosewall (Music) sits at the ready at the piano, poised to accompany the soloists.

Two solos and a monologue. Not enough to display a full repertoire, but enough to measure the range in talent and the potential among hopeful cast members.

One student, entering the choir room and shooting quick glances to take in the faces that watch her, begins her first solo, “Morning Person” from “Shrek: The Musical,” with a shaky voice, hardly audible over the accompanist. Encouraging smiles from the production team help embolden her, giving her confidence for her next solo.

In the next audition, the singer’s voice fills the room. Kiera Matthews ’19 shows off her stage presence, adding some subtle dance moves while singing “Bring on the Men” from “Jekyll & Hyde.” Her choice of material, which includes a monologue from the perspective of a woman who has become bored with a man’s romantic advances, triggers immediate connections to a character in the minds of the production team: “She’s like a living Addams family member. … And she only wears black!”

Two solos and a monologue – and the production team has found their Morticia.

Dance auditions
Cast auditions include dance practice. Aspiring actors are tasked with learning and performing a dance routine on the spot. Choreographers Jordan Schuman ’21 and Taylor Donoval ’20, along with the rest of the production team, are looking for actors’ abilities to learn new choreography.

“Please make sure you hydrate during this,” Donoval says. “I do not want you to pass out. It’s not that intense, but you could pass out.”

Work for Knight Theatre cast members starts weeks before rehearsals begin in earnest. The group meets for its first read-through Nov. 7. There, they’re given the opportunity to appreciate the musical as it was written – laughing at the script as they take turns reading their lines, highlighters at the ready.

Behind-the-scenes work has started: Costume director Kylie Marsden ’21 is on hand to take each actor’s measurements.

The first rehearsal, a 10-hour stretch two weeks into winter break, begins with a round of introductions and an ice-breaker improvisational game that leads into an impromptu rendition of “Stayin’ Alive,” by Richard Dauphinais ’21, Nicholas Surprise ’20 and Zac Dickhut ’19. Then, work gets serious. The cast pulls out their scripts and begins rehearsing lines, with Dickhut already donning the Gomez Addams accent.

Groups split up, taking over practice rooms and pianos wherever they can find them. Choral director Elle Dannecker ’19 leads a rehearsal of “When You’re an Addams” with Ancestor cast members in the bandroom, while Morticia sits at a piano in the drama room and leads Dickhut, Dauphinais, Emily Tomcek ’21, Savanna Meo ’19 and Jack Zampino ’19 in a rehearsal of “One Normal Night.”

The second full day of rehearsal, another 10-hour day, is all about movement. Artistic director Annicka Rabida ’21 works through the script, arranging the actors like mannequins in the drama room and explaining how they should move across the stage. Taylor Donoval ’20 demonstrates the tango for Gomez and Morticia a few steps at a time. Dickhut and Matthews work to mimic the movements, while Donoval adjusts the steps to match their abilities.

The first week rounds out with a “physical characterization workshop,” led by Kristin Bohn, a choreographer from Madison, Wis. She guides the students in meditative practices that aim to help connect them with their characters’ personalities and incorporate them into their physical movements on stage.

“See what’s a right fit for your character,” Bohn says as the students lie on the drama room floor with their eyes closed. “Explore any of those gestures or mannerisms [of your character] in a sustained fashion.”

Five days before opening night, the cast and crew are in Webb Theatre for a tech rehearsal. The walls of the Addams family home are up on stage – all cast members are required to pitch in with crew duties, including painting the set.

Backpacks and jackets are strewn across chairs in the theatre as both cast and crew work on a variety of show components. Most students are wearing pajamas; Matthews pairs her Morticia dress and heals with a screen-printed sweatshirt.

The actors are now “off book,” having most of their lines memorized but still relying on some guidance from Rabida. They run through select scenes, cued up by stage manager Kathryn Verheyden ’21, while crew adjusts the lighting. House manager Maddie Wenc ’19 fiddles with the remote-controlled car that will carry a stuffed rat across the stage.

It’s three days before opening night, and the first day of the spring semester. After class, the cast is in full costume and makeup for the first dress rehearsal. Since the tech rehearsal a few days before, the set walls have acquired more of the details that give the Addams home its dilapidated feel.

Matthews, on stage as Morticia, is on strict vocal rest for the day after overusing her voice during two full-show run-throughs the previous day. Rabida reads Morticia’s lines while Matthews rehearses her movements. Seated in the theatre, producer John Dicks ’20 works on his laptop, answering emails and checking ticket sales. “[As producer] you have to keep everything in mind – without losing your mind,” Dicks says.

Scene: Makeup room
Richard Dauphinais ’21, playing Uncle Fester, relaxes in a chair – with a freshly shaved head – while Zac Dickhut ’19, playing Gomez, paints dark circles around his eyes. More than a dozen other actors sit in front of mirrors under bright lights as they paint their faces white and their hair grey. “Dancing Queen” plays from someone’s phone.

Scene: Green room
Artistic director Annicka Rabida ’21 notices a map, to be used as a prop, is still torn down the middle.
Rabida: “I had hoped we’d have a new one for tonight. Let’s make sure we get one for tomorrow.”

Scene: Webb Theatre stage
The cast gets ready for warmups – stretches for the body and scales for the voice – and a meditation. Rabida and choreographer Jordan Schuman ’21 shout out last-minute tips and encouragement.
Schuman: “The show looks really good, guys.”
Rabida: “The tango last night [during dress rehearsal] was on fire!”
Schuman: “Whenever you have straight arms, make sure they’re straight! Whenever you have to point your toes, like in the kick line, make sure they’re pointed!”

Scene: Wing off left stage
Pit crew warms up with scales on a variety of instruments. Twelve people, including pit director Erin Hanke ’19, are packed into the small space, which feels all the smaller with two keyboards, a drum set, a dozen music stands and multiple instruments for each musician. Hanke keeps her eyes on the music in front of her and on the TV screen showing what’s happening on stage. During the show, she’ll gauge the pit crew’s timing by listening to both the actors’ lines and the audience’s reactions.

Scene: Webb Theatre stage
Stage manager Kathryn Verheyden ’21 calls for a last-minute rehearsal of a sword fight between Dickhut as Gomez and Michael Wagner ’19 as Lurch.
Verheyden: “Good. … Now do it again at full speed.”
The rest of the cast joins the actors on stage for one last rehearsal of “When You’re an Addams.”

Scene: Green room
15 minutes before showtime
Cast and a few members of the crew lounge on chairs and couches, quietly typing messages or playing games on their phones; some snap a few selfies that show off their makeup and costumes. Danelle Hove ’22, playing the ’80s Rockstar Ancestor, takes out her laptop and starts working on homework.

Costume designer Kylie Marsden ’21 runs into the room, followed by Rabida.
Rabida: “I needed to find you because I knew you could sew!”
Marsden grabs something off a table before running back out.
Rabida (aside): “It’s honestly not a big deal. Michael [Lurch] just lost a button on his suit coat.”

10 minutes before showtime
Verheyden: “My heart is honestly pounding.”
Rabida: “It’s too real! I just went out there and saw all my family members.”

Scene: Backstage
Savanna Meo ’19, playing Wednesday Addams, hugs Annika Osell ’19, playing the Bride Ancestor. It’s the pair’s last opening night with Knight Theatre.
Meo: “We’ve been doing opening nights [together] since the sixth grade!”

All actors stand in a circle, holding hands. Logan Groh ’21, playing Mal Beineke, leads the group in a “shakedown” – the actors release tension by shaking out their hands, arms and legs.
Groh: “OK, guys. It’s opening night. Center yourselves. … Break a leg!”

Scene: Wing off right stage
Dickhut, Dauphinais and Jack Zampino ’19 as Pugsley listen as audience members file into the theatre to take their seats. The audience goes quiet.
Announcer: “Welcome to Knight Theatre’s production of ‘The Addams Family.’ … Enjoy our extremely normal show.”
The pit crew plays the opening music from the other wing. The curtain opens, and the actors walk out to the stage.

Scene: Green room
It’s Intermission. The room is filled with the sounds of constant chatter. Rabida and cast members pose for photos. For some, this is their last act with Knight Theatre: More than a dozen members of the group will graduate in May.
Julia Camarillo ’19, playing Pilgrim Ancestor: “I’m putting my emotions in a box so I don’t cry on stage.”

Scene: Wing off left stage
By now, the actors have memorized each other’s lines and can predict audience reactions. Dickhut, as Gomez, pantomimes along with the lines from cast members on stage and the laughter from the audience. He walks through the curtain to enter the stage. Three ancestors walk in; they begin to lip sync to a solo by Kiera Matthews ’19 as Morticia.

Scene: Green room
Wagner plays a game on his phone with Emalyn Patchak, age 7, who plays young Wednesday Addams. Other cast members listen to the music through a speaker and sing along with the actors on stage. Dauphinais and Hove enter after performing “The Moon and Me.”
Hove: “You skipped a line.”
Dauphinais: “I knew I missed something.”
Hove: “It went by so fast.”
Dauphinais sighs.
Hove: “That’s OK. Nobody knows.”

Scene: Wing off right stage
Actors wait for the last scene to wrap and get ready for their curtain call. Zampino runs back to the green room, then returns after a moment carrying a pillow and a severed hand – the last member of the Addams family, Thing. Actors walk through the curtain and enter the stage to take their final bows.

Striking the set
After the final curtain, cast and crew get about an hour to visit with friends and family who came to the show, or to rest after more than two hours on stage or in the pit. Then, it’s back to work – this time “undoing” all they’ve done over the past month. Webb Theatre needs to be returned to its original state. The set, the costumes, the props: Everything needs to be deconstructed and put away before anyone can leave for the night.

Out of his Gomez costume, Zac Dickhut ’19 is back to his original blond locks. Instead of a fencing sabre, he carries an electric drill. With sober determination, he sets to dismantling the staircase and the scenery that he spent hours painting.

“That’s all she wrote, folks,” says Nicholas Surprise ’20. “Great job, everyone. It was a good run!”

Cast list
Gomez Addams – Zac Dickhut ’19
Morticia Addams – Kiera Matthews ’19
Wednesday Addams – Savanna Meo ’19
Pugsley Addams – Jack Zampino ’19
Uncle Fester – Richard Dauphinais ’21
Grandma – Emily Tomcek ’21
Lurch – Michael Wagner ’19
Young Wednesday Addams – Emalyn Patchak, age 7
Lucas Beineke – Nicholas Surprise ’20
Mal Beineke – Logan Groh ’21
Alice Beineke – Sarah Jensen ’19
Moon – Annika Osell ’19

Saloon Girl – Alyssa Brugger ’22
Pilgrim – Julia Camarillo ’19
Nurse – Kirstin Duprey ’19
Cowgirl – Madelyn Glosny ’22
Conquistador – Will Hammann ’22
Flight Attendant – Sarah Hanna ’19
Waitress – Carly Hartenberger ’22
Flapper – Marissa Helchen ’22
80s Rocker – Danelle Hove ’22
Soldier – Trent Larson ’22
Bride – Annika Osell ’19
Pirate – Madeline Pamperin ’20
Maid – Hannah Schierl ’20
Chef – AJ Wetenkamp ’22
Caveman – Tanner Witthuhn ’22

March 17, 2019