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Comic convergence

'Spamalot' marks first on-stage high school collaboration

Posted: January 23, 2014 - 1:00am
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The Laker Girls cheer for the knighting of Dennis into Sir Galahadin during rehearsal for the collaborative high school production of Monty Python's "Spamalot" at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
The Laker Girls cheer for the knighting of Dennis into Sir Galahadin during rehearsal for the collaborative high school production of Monty Python's "Spamalot" at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

The musical “Spamalot,” opening Friday night at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium, is the first collaboration among the three high schools and the home school program in Juneau. “Spamalot” is the stage version of British film “Monty Python’s Holy Grail.” The wacky story of King Arthur’s quest showcases a flying cow, killer rabbits, showgirls, knights who say “Ni” and great tunes like “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” More than 40 actors from Juneau-Douglas High School, Thunder Mountain High School, Yaakoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School and HomeBRIDGE will take the stage at 7 p.m. to present the British satire with flair and Finnish fish.

As the show’s producer, my involvement has included a variety of unusual tasks, including the following:

1. Find or make leaves, snowflakes and flower petals to go into the wooden buckets labeled “Fall,” “Winter,” and “Spring” that get dumped over the knights to indicate time is passing. I’m still working on the snow, which is somewhat ironic, because this is Alaska.

2. Borrow or buy Excalibur, the mythical sword carried by King Arthur. (Check.)

3. Find a stuffed cow. First I thought I could just restore the Into the Woods stuffed cow. Nope. Too heavy. Too dangerous. Could cause a concussion. Had to find a new cow. “How about a stuffed pink unicorn?” I asked. “Cut off the horn,” suggested Michaela Moore. Tada! We have our cow. Who cares if she’s pink.

4. Build a Trojan rabbit. Problem: carpentry skills required. Mine: zero. Solution: Call on parents. Guess who showed up? Wearable art artist David Walker, whose wooden ball gown has won international attention and is touring the world. Do I know who he is when he arrives one Saturday morning for a set and prop building session? Nope.

“Hi. I’m looking for a carpenter,” I say to the gray-haired gentleman who walks into the scene shop at JDHS that snowy Saturday morning.

“You’re in luck,” he said. “That’s what I do. What do you need?”

I opened my laptop and Googled pictures of the Trojan rabbit, a big wooden structure on wheels.

“OK. Let me look around at what wood you have.”

I showed him a carriage from a previous play that I thought could become the rabbit, just by adding something. And then I left him on his own. Other parents arrived and I had tasks for them to tackle on tables in the dance studio. As Caroline Hassler gathered up the 12 fabric fish that needed to be stuffed, she asked if I knew who was at work in the scene shop. I admitted I did not.

“That’s David Walker, the DAVID WALKER, who makes dresses out of wood. He won the Wearable Art show with…”

I didn’t let her finish. I ran to the shop. I was worried the man did not understand that I needed a simple Trojan rabbit today, done, with the lumber scraps we had.

I popped into the shop and there by the trash bin was the carriage, in pieces. However, on the floor was the shape of a rabbit, just like the one in the movie, made from random pieces of wood.

“Do I need to tell you we have a limited budget and a deadline?” I asked.

Mr. Walker chuckled. I left him alone, but peeked in on his progress throughout the day. Our Trojan rabbit, completed that afternoon, is a piece of art.

Staging a collaborative production of “Spamalot” was the brainstorm of JDHS drama teacher Michaela Moore, the show’s director and choreographer, who said she liked the idea of bringing theater and music students from all three high schools together.

“It will give us an orchestra with a big sound and a stage full of actors,” Moore said. “That’s what audiences want. That’s what we want. And it will be good for all our programs.”

Also on board are TMHS music teacher Brian Van Kirk, JDHS vocal teacher Richard Moore, Juneau School District auditorium manager Bo Anderson and parent volunteer costumer Shelly Wright.

Wright took on the huge task of costuming the more than 40 actors, some who change costumes five times. Wright, a parent and an artist, has been making costumes out of fabric and fruit and fur….and piece of dryer vent hose. One of her biggest challenges has been creating the Black Knight’s costume, the egotistical character who claims, “None shall pass.” The Black Knight attempts to prevent King Arthur’s progress, even after losing both arms and eventually his legs. None shall know her secrets.

Just as Moore envisioned, the script of “Spamalot” has proven to be a positive vehicle for collaboration among the music and drama students here in Juneau. What makes it fun is that the entire cast is on stage often, folk dancing, tap dancing and singing. The plot shifts quickly, just like the quirky movie, and the search for the grail becomes a metaphor for finding what is important in life. In the 2004-2005 Broadway season, “Spamalot” received 14 Tony Award nominations and won in three categories including Best Musical.

The show opens on Friday and plays Saturday, Jan. 25 at 2 and 7 p.m. It continues the following weekend, on Friday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 1 at 2 and 7 p.m. A medieval costume contest with prizes awarded at intermission is happening on Friday, Jan. 31. Audience members are welcome to come dressed in their favorite medieval outfit (but leave swords at home, please).

Tickets are available at Hearthside, from cast members, online at the JAHC, and as the door. All proceeds will be shared between JDHS and TMHS, the two schools that have funded the collaborative project.

Maier is the TMHS drama teacher.

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