Theater 520:

Actors in brightly colored costumes dancing and singing around the stage – your average musical, right? Well, if most musicals involve cast members running onto a circular stage from six different entrances, blurry lines between the present and the past and three sets of people having “interpretive dance” sex simultaneously, then, yes, “Violet” was a perfectly ordinary musical. The show follows the journey of a young woman named Violet, played by Carrie St. Louis ’08. Scarred both physically and physiologically since the day an axe blade maimed her face, Violet embarks on a desperate bus trip from her home in rural North Carolina to talk to the preacher she believes will be able to heal her. On the way, she meets two soldiers, Monty, played by Nico Hargreaves-Heald ’08, and Flick, played by Sean Hilton ’07, both of whom start vying for her affection. After meeting with the preacher, played by Eliot Shimer ’07, and having a vision of her dead father, Violet believes that she has been healed. Although she later finds out that her physical scars didn’t heal, her journey healed her in more ways than she could imagine. “About two years ago, my son Trevor told me that I always do boring musicals,” said Theatre and Dance Instructor and Violet director Mark Efinger. “He then proceeded to sing me all the musicals he knew. After listening to him sing for about 12 hours, I decided I liked “Violet” best.” “Violet,” with music by Jeanie Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, is an unusual show, no doubt about it. Initially, it’s not the kind of production usually performed at high schools. Beyond that, the presentation itself was atypical. That is where the theatre “in the round” part comes in. Instead of having a regular stage and a pit for the musicians and conductor at the front of the room, the stage for “Violet” was circular and located in the center of Tang Theatre. The audience surrounded it on all sides so the actors had to enter and exit by walking straight through the rows of seats. Although the show lasted for approximately two-and-a-half hours, there was never a dull moment. The performers stayed right in the audience’s faces throughout the show. During the song “Raise Me Up,” the cast even mingled with the crowd until the entire theatre was on their feet, dancing and clapping. Auditions for the production took place back in January, after several musical theatre and dance workshops. After the cast was decided, rehearsals started almost right away. “It’s a Theatre 520, so we met for class every day,” explained Chris Li ’07, who played Violet’s father in the show. “That really helped make the cast tighter and more comfortable performing together.” Trevor Efinger, Mr. Efinger’s son helped the students with a few choreographic concepts. Although the cast ranged from those with no background in dance whatsoever to experienced dancers, the moves presented challenges for everyone. Genevieve Clark ’08, one of the four primary dancers said, “I’m used to dancing, but [we] had to represent Violet’s inner feelings. [During the choreography process] we invented poses that we thought fit our personalities and integrated them into the show.” The singing was a different matter entirely. With just as wide a range of experience levels in voice as in there were in dance, the cast put a great deal of effort into making the musical numbers sound just right. Music Director Christopher Walter said, “The music crosses not only state borders, but musical borders as well. It’s a compilation of every musical style of the 60’s. Even though it’s not the kind of music I’ve associated with much before, it’s been really fun.” Walter directed the musicians and singers from a spot in the middle of the orchestra. He appeared simultaneously on a TV screen at the back of the theatre, so the performers could see him regardless of which way they were facing. Because Efinger didn’t want to downplay any of the racism in “Violet,” the signs on the entrance doors to Tang Theatre read “Coloreds Only.” The actors did their best to portray the actual way blacks would have been treated in the South in 1964. “The racial stuff is a setting, not a theme,” said Efinger. “You’re not hammered with a racial message. The racial issues form a parallel to the thematic issues about appearances.” Racism wasn’t the only issue Efinger decided to face head on. For instance, there was a highly charged sex scene, where the older and younger Violets were simultaneously sleeping with their love interests of the time as two representative dancers did the same in the center of the stage. Efinger said, “I hoped for it to be provocative but not pornographic. Something palatable for a high school audience.” Besides this scene, the play as a whole was full of energy and life. St. Louis said, “This has been a great opportunity to show everyone what I’m interested in. Plus the energy in the cast has been amazing! It’s just been a fantastic experience.” “Violet” is the kind of show audience members will remember – and keep humming – for a long time to come.