Rolling with It: UF theater students find skating has its ups and downs
Singing and dancing in a musical is one thing. Doing so on eight wheels rolls things into a whole different realm.
Producing the stage version of the 1980 cult film classic “Xanadu,” about a man’s dream to open the coolest roller rink in the history of polyesterland, is serious business for The University of Findlay’s theatre department. But the musical is meant to be campy, outrageous and hilarious, and participants have been lacing up to ensure that it will be. Check out one of their rehearsals here.
At least one performer will be on roller skates for the vast majority of the musical, the details of which can be found here.
To pull it off, the 16 student actors, many of whom had never donned a pair of roller skates, are learning the basics under the direction of Diana Montague, Ph.D., professor of communication. By day this semester, she’s been teaching courses on speech and the societal impact of films. On Tuesday evening, she was gliding amidst the students and giving them pointers on how to stay upright.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when roller skating’s popularity last peaked, Montague was a disk jockey and skating guard at a rink in Bradley, Illinois, where she cranked out disco tunes and ensured that up to 600 skaters were obeying cues for backwards skating, couples skating and other commands that mixed up the nightly routine and helped prevent collisions.
On a recent practice night at UF, people were safely practicing how to not collide with the floor.
“Remember, it’s graceful dancing,” Montague urged students, who were cautiously traversing the John and Hester Powell Grimm Theatre’s stage. “Do not skate fast,” she urged.
There were a few spills and lots of laughs. Leads Tabitha Kittle, who is playing Kira, or Clio, the muse of history, and senior Timothy Sherman who is portraying Sonny, were downstage perfecting the paired arabesque position.
The skates themselves have come from all over. They were acquired from family members; bought on eBay; accepted from Findlay First Edition, which once used them for its own show; and borrowed from Rolling Thunder Skating and Family Fun Center in Findlay, where Montague hosted initial practice sessions.
The theater’s stage has been customized for “Xanadu,” with ramp angles built to accommodate all performers’ skating skill levels.
Micheal Anders, Ph.D., music professor and “Xanadu” musical director, said a recent master class taught by visiting Broadway star and singer Cheyenne Jackson helped students prepare for the musical’s skating demands; Jackson played the lead role of Sonny in “Xanadu’s” Broadway version.
“Obviously some have picked it (skating) up pretty easily and some have not,” said Anders. “But I’m proud of all the students. Even the students who have never skated have really jumped in and are gung ho and trying.”
Anders said “Xanadu” was chosen for its manageable casting and storyline, and because of its relative newness; it premiered on Broadway in 2007. From the start, the physical challenges were considered.
“This is a commentary on 1980,” said Anders. “Here we are, 30 years later, trying to get the same stuff going” with people who weren’t even born until the 1990s, he noted.
But, he said, “it’s kind of fun to get out of the box and do a new musical. And we realized we had the people to do it.”