Staff Report: Grasshopper

A pierce whistle sounded as a lone spotlight focused on Zachary Ruffin ’17, a member of Hypnotiq, Andover’s hip-hop dance group. Ruffin danced to the center of the stage in Tang Theatre while The Jackson 5’s “Rockin’ Robin” plays. Four other male dancers from Hypnotiq joined Ruffin when strobe lights begin to flicker. A few moments later, the female members of Hypnotiq filled the stage and continued the routine to a mash-up of songs from the 1960s, including “My Girl,” “Man’s World,” “Dancing in the Streets” and “Respect” in a dress rehearsal for Grasshopper Night, a student-run talent show, on Wednesday. This year there are four performances of Grasshopper over Family Weekend, each with 12 acts that showcase student music, dance and theater talents.

“[Grasshopper] is one of the biggest shows of the year that’s filled with such student enthusiasm for what each of us is doing,” said Lizzie McGonagle ’16, Dance Director for Grasshopper Night. “Regardless of whether you’re a stagehand or a stage manager, you come into the role with such love and excitement for what you’re doing [that] you put on a great show that people love to watch. It’s a really fun show where some of the most talented students at Andover get to share their talents.”

After two hours of discussion earlier this year, McGonagle and her co-directors, Keito Mahaniah ’16 and Janice Cheon ’16, decided on the 1960s as a theme for this year’s Grasshopper Night. They chose this theme in hopes that the era’s vibrant culture and plethora of social justice issues would inspire a number of acts.
Mahaniah, Theater Director for Grasshopper Night, said, “The idea of the ’60s is this newfound form of expression. There was a turnaround in the ’60s to a more open, rock and roll feel. [The directors] felt we wanted to represent that it was the start of modern variation in entertainment, and that’s what we have [at Grasshopper]. We have four a capella groups, all different styles, four dance groups, all different styles, and other types of groups. We have a band. We have Photon. It’s [an] embracement of new ideas and new music.”
Since Grasshopper is sharing Tang with the Theatre-920 production of “Hairspray” later this fall, the Grasshopper performers must work around a large hole at center stage that will act as the orchestra pit in the elaborate set for “Hairspray.”

McGonagle said, “[The hole] is supposed to make the stage look like a record, which I hope people will understand, otherwise it just looks like there’s a hole in the stage. We’re not using the ‘Hairspray’ set, because we do want to make it clear we are a different production from ‘Hairspray.’ ‘Hairspray’ is a faculty-run production [while] Grasshopper is totally student run.”

Tessa Jarden ’16 and Cam Mesinger ’16 serve as the emcees for the show, helping to guide the audience through the various acts. The pair acts as themselves travelling back in time 60 days to improve their final Spring Term grades, but accidentally traveling back to the 1960s instead.

McGonagle said, “We have two female emcees, which I think is really powerful, because we made it to be talking about feminism and feminism in comedy and being confident in that women can do comedy, and women are funny and can do smart comedy. I think that’s a really nice message that we’re able to send, as well as with a lot of the acts, because the ’60s were a time of social movement and social change, a lot of the acts have some sort of message with them.”

Azure, Andover’s all-female a capella group, kicks off the night with a mash up of “Rockin’ Robin” and “Proud Mary,” both iconic songs from the ’60s. The group begins the song with black peacoats on, but as the beat of the song picks up and the lights brighten, the group sheds their jackets and moves around the perimeter of the hole in the stage. Swaying together, Azure sings a cheerful, catchy tune, with higher pitched harmonies complementing the soloists.

“This year we’re trying to go lighthearted, fun, upbeat – hoping to get the crowd engaged,” said Taylor Crutison ’16, the Co-Head of Azure. “I think that’s the kind of vibe we got from [the songs we chose], and we’re hoping to transfer what we feel from the songs [to] singing them to the audience and the energy on stage.”

SLAM, Andover’s step dance team, will be performing a piece to “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. The piece is inspired by female empowerment. In addition to their traditional steps, SLAM has added various stunts to their performance this year, including a double-back handspring by Lexi Johnson ’16.

Rosie Poku ’17, a member of SLAM, said, “We thought [the stunts would] be cool, get the audience’s attention. They add a ‘wow’ factor. I think it’ll make the performance more fun.”

Handbell Choir, Andover’s handbell group, will be performing a tranquil rendition of “Blackbird” by The Beatles. Two singers harmonize to the steady, light melody of the bells while images of birds are projected behind the performers. This is Handbell Choir’s first time performing in Grasshopper Night, and it is also the first time the handbells have left the Cochran Chapel.

“The ’60s were a time of trying to promote peace and love, and if you [know] ‘Blackbird,’ then you know that it sends a message of hope and peace, about what The Beatles wanted in an ideal world,” said Tony Faller ’18, the Co-Head of Handbell Choir.

Spinning rainbow lights, Photon, Andover’s poi group, creates geometric designs in the dark theater. Based on the Apollo 11 moon landing, the group set the performance to a mashup of “Beyond Monday,” by The Glitch Mob, “A Sky Full of Stars,” by Coldplay and “Interstellar,” by Laszlo. Neil Armstrong’s famous message from the moon also plays in their audio.

Jason Yung ’18, a member of the group, said, “I find that performances are really special and are a lot different from practicing on your own because you show what you’re doing to the audience and you let more people learn about poi. To the general public this is a relatively unknown thing, and it’s nice to make it more well known because there’s a really nice community surrounding us.”

As the only band performing in Grasshopper Night this year, Krishna and the Heartbreakers Experience will perform Marvin Gaye’s “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The band takes advantage of the “Hairspray” set by projecting undulating geometric shapes onto half of a black curtain that hangs over the “Hairspray” street set.

Krishna Canning ’16, a member of the band, said, “I picked [the song] because I liked the soulful style of the piece. We’re the only small band, but all the other groups, besides [Sam Hawley ’16], are organized a capella groups or clubs, and so we sort of show that the school also has unorganized groups that are fun but can also [perform] at a higher level.”
Despite limited preparation time and a few technical errors in rehearsal, the directors are confident that the final performance will run cleanly and cohesively.

McGonagle said, “It’s always hard to tell during tech week how a show’s going to go. But I have a lot of confidence in the performers that they will do well. It always pulls together in some miraculous form of energy and excitement and nervousness. Everyone has been working extremely hard… and I’m really excited to see [everyone] get together and bring out that energy into a cohesive form.”