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The Northerner

The director’s perspective: What it takes to bring ‘Grease’ to the stage

Kyle Sebree, Staff writer

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As students race through the final stretch of the semester, the Department of Theatre and Dance plans to send Northern Kentucky University’s fall semester off in a roar of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and V8 engines, with the musical production of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s award-winning musical, “Grease.” Assistant theatre and dance professor and director Michael Hatton provides a deep look inside the planning and preparation of “Grease.”

“It’s like putting a puzzle together,” Hatton said.

When asked to break down the extensive preparation phase, Hatton doesn’t fetter his words. Their schedule is long and occasionally intense. The process for “Grease” began in April when theatre students were notified of audition requirements. The production phase for all theatre department plays begins up to six months before opening night. This may come as a surprise for non-theatre students, but it is a living reality for the students who became the life force of the play. Students prepared the entire summer just for the auditions, which were held the second day of classes this term.
“This is a process in theater that takes time for ideas to percolate and come together to make one cohesive production,” Hatton said.

In order to ensure the production would come together, students who auditioned had to perform a song selection, monologue and a dance combination. After call-backs, the cast was narrowed down and selected based on who excelled at vocal ability, dancing and improvisation.

Despite a nearly seamless pre-production phase, the department’s decision to include “Grease” was not part of the original plans for the Fall 2012 program. The dour economic forecast looming over the country made it clear that “Grease” would be a ray of happiness.

“We know this year has been tough on people in our community and society so we wanted to do something fun and entertaining,” Hatton said.
Selecting a beloved musical such as “Grease” in a way is a double-edged sword. The play has made several renowned runs on Broadway and the West End in its four-decade life; however, the format that most audiences know the story in is the 1978 film version.

“Every production since has been influenced by that film, whether we like it or not,” said Hatton. “We pay homage to the film because it’s important but we want our actors to show the work they’ve applied to the character.”

Outside of trying to appease the audience’s predetermined idea of the film version, Hatton expresses slight chagrin for the television series, “Glee” and how they seem to be using the same schedule as NKU. In 2010, Hatton helped direct duties for NKU’s run of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” “Glee” did its version that year as well. This year history repeats itself with “Glee” doing “Grease” as their season closer.

“In the end it’s a good thing because it gets people excited to want to come out and see a live version locally,” Hatton said.
When discussing the cast chemistry, Hatton was candid with his methods as a director.

“I’ve always believed as a director to have some kind of unifying experience for a cast,” he said.
He revealed his method in bringing out camaraderie amongst his cast by having them meet him at Newport on the Levee dressed as the characters they portray in the play. They were expected to be in character as soon as they stepped out of their cars. Splitting up into their respective groups (Pink Ladies, Burger Palace Boys etc.), the cast competed against each other at Star Lanes bowling alley.
As the final weeks of rehearsals continue, Hatton describes his easygoing approach to the craft.

“What’s great about theater is you have to stay on schedule but part of what we do is make time for experimentation in the rehearsal process,” said Hatton. “Sometimes it’s worth getting off schedule a little bit if it means a greater benefit will come from it.”

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The director’s perspective: What it takes to bring ‘Grease’ to the stage