‘Annie’ draws crowds for first Dayton High musical since 2015
The sun did come out and everything turned out well for the red-headed orphan Annie in the Dayton High School production of the popular musical last weekend. For the cast, and the directors, the experience was challenging but also brought a lot of appreciation for the new technology in the recently built Fine Arts facility at DHS.
Director Diana Searcy said she and Music Director Ann Marie Landrum found the technology in the new facility enriched the experience and made their job easier in producing a show that featured a cast of 50 students.
Searcy, who has been with Dayton High School for six years, said it was the first musical the theater department had done since 2015 and over three nights—a full dress rehearsal, and two shows—it drew more than 1,000 patrons to the theater.
“I don’t know the history, so I don’t know when Dayton had done a musical before that, but it’s a big help to have these facilities,” she said.
Upon her arrival to DHS, Searcy said most of their productions were performed in the Black Box Theater.
“But when we needed a proscenium, we had to drive a mile or so down the road to Nottingham and that was a big pain to keep everything portable. It was horrible,” she said.
Not long after that, the community passed the bond and the arts teachers were included in the meetings that planned the design and colors associated with the theater.
Once built, the next big challenge came with a learning curve on how to operate all the new toys.
“It’s very technical and specialized,” Searcy said.
“We had training from the manufacturers who put the equipment in. I have a small group of students who practice with it consistently,” she said, “and they are well-trained.”
Those students are responsible for all performances in the Fine Arts Center whether it’s theater, band, choir, or any other guests.
“The seniors are passing on their institutional knowledge to underclassmen, but they just need experience. It’s very complicated. I’m still learning every day,” she said.
With each passing day, they discover new features they haven’t used yet and scenarios that they haven’t encountered.
“In Annie, that was the first time we had 14 microphones going at the same time,” the theater teacher said. That was 12 lapel mikes and two other backstage mics. Students weren’t responsible for turning their microphones on or off, it was done from the sound booth.
The sound tech crew not only needed to know how to operate the equipment but had to know the show entirely from beginning to end to hit their cues at the right time.
“That meant not always just one person entering and exiting the stage, but sometimes in a group,” Searcy said.
Another hurdle, and blessing, was the ability to pre-program the scene lighting.
“There were times we used presets and others when we did it hot [live],” she said.
For Annie, the lighting is not too complicated which also helped.
Other technical aspects of the show behind the scenes involved the purchase of the rights to do the show.
“We received a box from Music Theater International that included the scripts, a director’s script, a music director’s script, the music was all on CD’s that included rehearsal CD’s and the music for the show,” she said.
Some of the CD’s had the words on it to help singers learn the words and music, and then the accompaniment CD only.
“There was also a CD with choreography on it that we could copy or steal ideas from,” she said.
It also included a media disc that included program layout, press releases, and more.
“We also found a prop list on there too,” the teacher said.
All the way down to cues listed and marked in the director’s edition, Searcy said it could have been a book entitled, “Musical’s for Dummies,” it was so explanatory.
“It had lighting cues and I loved getting it that way,” she said.
Another challenge was the use of transitions for the backgrounds for the show. While it cut out the necessity for building massive sets that would have required hours of work and expense, it also presented a few problems.
“Building scenery is not my forte,” the director admitted, “and we don’t even have the shop tools to do that.”
The big question was how to show the projections on the cyclorama.
“The company told us we should hang the projector up high on the first electric and project it on the cyclorama, but I wasn’t comfortable with that suggestion,” she said.
She ultimately used the built-in projection and that worked.
“Sometimes it made shadows and it projected on the characters,” Searcy said, but it’s something that they can clean up in the off period.
Annie Jr. has less expensive royalties, reduces the show to approximately an hour without an intermission, and was specifically designed to have simpler vocals and harmonies.
Shayann Johnson, the dance instructor at DHS, and four of the Dazzler officers each helped choreograph the show.
It was a better showing that Searcy said they did four years ago when they did High School Musical.
“To be honest, it really wasn’t very good. We did it at Nottingham. It was a poor facility. Poor equipment. We just did the best we could with what we had,” she said.
Searcy said she felt Annie was so much better because of the facility and the right equipment to do the job.
“This show just blew up in a good way and we had such great crowds for our first time doing a show in a while,” she said.
“I couldn’t have done this without the help of Ann Marie,” Searcy said. The pair are considering their options for doing a show every other year and by the reaction of the crowds that attended, it will be a welcome addition to the fall repertoire presented by the theater students.