By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Central Theatre Ensemble cuts loose as ‘Footloose’ opening fast approaches

Abril Fernandez
“Footloose” cast onstage.

One day out from opening curtains, an eager director makes final preparations for the Central Theatre Ensemble’s upcoming show, the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of tireless work from designers, producers, crew, actors, choreographers and composers. “Footloose” hits the stage in McConnell Hall tomorrow, and with it, Dr. Emily Rollie’s musical vision for the iconic 1984 film celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Rollie, the show’s director and associate professor of theatre studies, performance & education, knew it was the right time for “Footloose.” 

“Before we come into the academic year, we as a department sit down and talk about what the [upcoming] season will look like,” Rollie said. “We… talk about which pieces serve what the students need to learn, what the department needs and what the community needs. We often talk about ‘Why this play? Why here? Why now?’”

“Footloose” rose to the top of the Theatre Department’s list because of its unique vocal and choreographic stylings, vastly different from last spring’s “Into the Woods.” 

“It’s very much about dance,” Rollie said. “It’s in that same genre of 1980s movies that are actually about dance rather than just having dance in it. So it came to the top because it gave us a real great opportunity to look at dance, really work on dance skills for musical theater and our performance students.” The contemporary pop sensibilities of “Footloose” also provide students with a different vocal skillset to hone throughout the production, widening the musical range of these budding actors. 

Not solely chosen for its more technical aspects, the messaging of “Footloose” seems especially timely to Rollie, and something much larger than just dance and music. 

“What’s interesting to me as a director is thinking about all of the legislation happening across the country that regulates people’s bodies,” she said. “‘Footloose’ is really about a community in grief, grappling with ‘How do we do the best thing for the people?’ And part of that is trying to control, which doesn’t serve them [the community]. And part of that control is controlling people’s bodies via the joy of dance and connecting to an embodied state. So I think there’s something really powerful about coming to this piece in [this] moment.”

“Footloose” provides an opportunity for dialogue according to Rollie, through the format of the show’s youth butting heads with the community’s adults. “Though it’s also very fun because it’s ‘Footloose,’” she added. 

CWU’s dramaturgy class, taught by Dr. Natashia Lindsey, did further research into the resonances of the show, focusing on audience outreach and the larger ramifications of the work. Rollie mentions dance bans (the central conflict of “Footloose”) around the U.S., some as recent as 2020, as an example of how dance and the human body continue to be regulated. “They’re cutting loose into restrictions to be who they are,” Rollie said. The feminist messages and notion of a community’s reaction to grief present in “Footloose” also remain essential to fully understanding the piece, as well as providing inspiration for the actor’s performances. 

When interpreting a preexisting work like “Footloose,” Rollie ensures that the ensemble’s own spin on the show shines through its characters, despite a contract preventing them from changing any words. “We’re not going to change anything because we’re honoring the playwrights as collaborators and the composers,” Rollie said. “That being said, even within that, we can look at those things and think about ‘How does this work for the actors we’ve cast in this role?’” Getting to tell their own story inside these boundaries is what Rollie described as “exciting and awesome.”

When casting for “Footloose,” Rollie was looking for actors who could understand the essence of the characters and truly understand them at their core. For Ren, the protagonist of “Footloose,” it was the charismatic freeness that sophomore clinical psychology major and theatre arts minor Dylan Santini brought that landed him the role. 

“The other thing we look at, especially in an educational institution, is ‘Where does it also challenge the actor?’” Rollie said. “That gives them something new to play, so they’re not just playing the same roles over and over and over again, which is exciting too. So it gives the actors an opportunity to explore their creative skills.”

When casting for an ensemble, Rollie emphasizes the community behind the curtain, especially for something like “Footloose.” “It’s important to me that the ensemble is an ensemble, and they’re there to support each other,” she said. “So it’s less about the diva and more about who’s going to play in the community because this play is about community. How do we also embody that as an ensemble?” It’s the environment of the aforementioned community that remains the beating heart of the cast and crew and what makes theatre at CWU so special, according to Rollie. 

“Footloose” opens at McConnell Auditorium on Friday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m. and will run until May 19. Tickets are on sale online.

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