‘Oklahoma!’ comes sweeping into Basalt
Three years ago, when Basalt High School began staging musicals on its own, it was the car that did it. The production in 2002, the first year the Basalt students split from their collaborative efforts with Roaring Fork High School, was “Grease,” the sunny take on the ’50s. And when the participants saw that the set featured an actual car – a vintage TR-7 – they knew they were in for a good time.”I think the kids realized what a big deal the show was when they saw a real car onstage,” said John Goss, the local stage director who has led the fledgling theater effort in the midvalley. “That opened their eyes and showed them how important the show was to them and to the school.”The Basalt theater contingent, however, with three years’ experience behind them, need something bigger than a car to get them revved up. So after three years of lighthearted material – “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Bye Bye Birdie” followed “Grease” – Goss has introduced his troupe to deeper emotions. This year’s production, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” is intended to provide the students with a more serious sort of fun. In the “Oklahoma!” romantic triangle of cowboy Curly (played by Sean Owens), pretty Laurey (Jessica Barnes) and malevolent ranch hand Jud (Tad Kincaid), there is more than just humor and song to experience.”There’s a lot of deep hatred and anger and emotion that we’re delving into,” said Goss, a 41-year-old Brush Creek resident. “The kids are watching these scenes in rehearsal, the scene where maybe Curly is about to rape Laurey, and you hear these huge sighs.”
Goss, whose own theater career began when he was a teenager in Albuquerque, believes that probing such emotions is no less enjoyable than belting out “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” in “Oklahoma!” or making jokes behind the back of the prim Sandy in “Grease.””I think that’s so important that these young kids, new to theater, feel and emote these very strong emotions. In any direction, whether it be humor, fear, terror. That they feel these, and emote them to the audience and receive a response,” said Goss. “When you play these dramatic moments and feel that reaction, that’s what acting is. That’s fun, no matter what the emotion is. Tad Kincaid is playing Jud – and he’s just loving playing these mean, nasty emotions.”Exploring such feelings onstage, adds Goss, can lend to emotional development away from the theater: “I can’t imagine it not – [when] getting in touch with your feelings and seeing how people react when you say certain things, or give just the smallest look.”However, it is the development of theater skills that Goss has focused on for four years. Basalt High School and Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School had combined forces for some years on a spring musical. In 2002, Jane Cigrand, a substitute teacher in Basalt, thought it time for Basalt to fly solo. Goss, after years of bouncing around the West from one small theater company to another, had recently arrived in Aspen, announcing his presence with a year at the Crystal Palace dinner theater.
Aided by Cigrand, who has taken on the producer’s role, and strong support from parents, Goss launched the theater program. If the kids weren’t instantly enthusiastic, the onstage car in “Grease” went a long way toward taking them there. The affection for musical theater was cemented by the reaction from audiences, the rest of the student body and the administration. (Principal Jim Waddick even appeared in “Bye Bye Birdie.”)”The show went off and these kids were bouncing off the walls about the quality of the production,” said Goss, who has also choreographed for Aspen Community Theatre and has a singing group, The Altitones, in addition to his day job as a house painter.If Goss was pleased by the applause that greeted “Grease,” he is ecstatic about what has followed. The school has been buzzing about each production since, and Goss has seen ever bigger turnouts for auditions, with a wider swath of the student population represented. Nearly 30 girls and eight boys auditioned for “Oklahoma!” with a crew of students working on sets and props like the 100 handmade cornstalks on the “Oklahoma!” stage. The effort has been affirmed offstage as well; Basalt High added a speech and drama class for the first time after witnessing the theater experience.”Kids are calling at the beginning of the year: ‘What show are we doing? Is there a video? How can we get involved?'” said Goss.
Just as rewarding as watching the program expand is seeing the growth of each student actor. Four of this year’s seniors – Sean Owens, Liz Winn, Robert Wood and Erin Bair – have been in all of the productions.”To watch them grow from one knowing so little about theater, not even knowing about pronunciation and volume, and to see them now helping teach the younger kids what to do and what not to do, that’s cool,” said Goss.Goss’ latest major project is trying to open a dinner theater in Glenwood Springs. He and partners Pat Halloran and David Dyer, both longtime players on local stages, are currently scouting sites. But part of Goss will always be with the kids.”I think it’ll be tougher working with seasoned professionals,” he said. “The kids I get are so fresh and so green, it’s easy to give them information.”
Basalt High School’s production of “Oklahoma!” will be presented Friday and Saturday, April 22-23, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, April 24. at 2 p.m.; in the Basalt Middle School auditoriumStewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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