“No more fear. No more dread. No more dwelling on the danger. We’ll dare to live instead.” Starkville High School senior Gwendolynn McNutt belted out those words to the song “No More Fear” Tuesday afternoon in a dress rehearsal for the school’s upcoming production of “Freaky Friday.”
While the musical number may be written for her character, the song resonated with McNutt, who said she’s proud to show the world how she is facing her fears. Not only is she learning to overcome her anxiety about performing in a lead role for the first time, but she’s also conquering the struggles this past year has brought.
“I thought COVID would just shut me down being in musical theater at all,” McNutt said. “When we got the news that we were doing a senior musical, I decided I needed to go for a big role. If it wasn’t for COVID, I don’t think I would have had the nerve to audition for this role, but I realized because of the pandemic, this was now my last opportunity to be in a musical in high school. So, I auditioned and got one of the lead roles. I’m really proud of myself.”
SHS theater department and Thespian Troupe No. 1180 will be showcasing their first live production since the start of the pandemic. While the students have presented cabarets and competition shows virtually or outdoors, this will be the first performance with an in-person audience.
“Knowing that we were going to be doing “Freaky Friday” in front of a live audience just lifted us,” McNutt said. “Doing it virtually is so much different than doing it for a live audience. I’ve really missed it.”
Disney’s “Freaky Friday” tells a comedic, but heartwarming story of the struggles family relationships can be at times.
Performances will be 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the SHS Auditorium.
While the school is finally allowed to present this live show, COVID-19 precautions will still be in place, SHS theater teacher Trisha Jordan said. Audience size has been reduced to 50-percent capacity — 114 theatergoers per show instead of the usual 228 — and all audience members are required to wear a mask during the entirety of the performance.
Tickets are $10 and only accessible online at www.showtix4u.com/event-details/49050, and no concessions will be available to prevent the spread of the virus.
‘Come see my show’
Frustration throughout the course of the pandemic from not being able to practice the craft makes senior cast member S.J. Brocato overly thrilled to perform again.
“Here we are having a semi-normal show again where I actually get to promote it and tell people ‘Hey, I have a poster,’” Brocato said. “‘Come see my show.’ It’s just good.”
Jordan said her students have dealt with many challenges despite getting to produce a live show. While they were still able to participate in all competitions and solo contests they do every year, all events this year have been virtual, not allowing them that same experience of audience interaction and the adrenaline rush of performing live.
“Some of my kids said that they feel a little bit rusty, and they’ve commented that they’ve kind of forgotten the process,” Jordan said. “It’s sort of trying to figure out again how this routine works and get it down pat again.”
While the cast members will not be required to wear masks during the performances or dress rehearsals, masks were enforced during all other rehearsals. Brocato said practicing in masks became difficult at times when trying to learn lines or choreography.
“It’s very frustrating,” Brocato said. “When we get the mics, they’re always rubbing up against the mic. It’s hard to sing and speak clearly.”
McNutt said because she has not gotten to perform live at all this school year and because her junior year was cut short, she wants to give this performance her all to show the community how Troupe No. 1180 has “no more fear.”
“Being involved in theater just makes me happy,” McNutt said. “It’s been a long process to get here. We have to make the four days we perform the very best, or it will be for nothing.”