The Complex Staging of West Side Story

Rachel Labarre

Knife fights. Dancing like nothing you’ve seen before. The fall 2011 Staples Players production of “West Side Story” will treat its audience and challenge its performers.

“We can’t go into autopilot, we have to think it through and do it full out,” says Tyler Jent ’13 who will be playing Bernardo in the show.

Over fifty years ago, “West Side Story” was brought to the Broadway stage; now in 2011, Staples Players is working hard on the powerful scenes of violence and large dance numbers to kick off a successful year by brining this 11 Academy Award winning musical to our stage.

One of the aspects of “West Side Story” that players is mastering is the stage combat scenes.  Stage combat is taught in the Theater Two classes, so the actors are prepared – constantly doing forward rolls, punches, kicks, and spending 15 minutes after school every day to do push-ups.

Players has not had many shows before with so many murders and fight scenes and they are excited to show their talent with this musical. “We do not water down our shows so the rumbles and murders will be portrayed as they are written,” David Roth, the director of Staples Players, said.

Chris Smalley, who staged the fights in Players’ “Romeo and Juliet” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” will be staging these fights, too. Smalley is working particularly hard on mastering the first scene in which Ryan Shea ’13 is flipped over by many actors. Recently, Shea fell on his elbow and hurt it for a few days. This experience provided the actors with a learning experience, realizing what happens when they do not keep up and put 100% effort.

Oddly enough, Jent says that the fight scenes are mostly in the victim’s control. In order to make sure that no one is being hurt, the victim takes action and the other actor has to make it believable through his or her reactions.

Another method Smalley uses when staging fight scenes is starting each fight scene going 25% speed. Once the actors have nailed it that slow, it is sped up to 50%, then 75%, and finally 100%.

Smalley will help actors who have not taken the Theater Two class, and make sure that “we are doing real, and most importantly, safe, stage combat,” said August Laska ’13.

Stage combat is just the start of excitement in this show; “West Side Story” is also famous for it’s dancing. President of Staples Players, Sofia Ribolla ’12, who is one of the two cast members playing Anita, says that some actors actually get private rehearsals with the dance captains specifically dedicated to improving his or her dance skills, if they need it.

“I’m not a dancers, so my leg doesn’t extend as high as I want it to when we do our kicks,” Ribolla said. However, she has had multiple two-hour rehearsals to work on her dance skills and overcome this difficulty. The dance captains have been very willing to work with people to make the dance pieces as clean and professional as possible.

In addition, Bradley Jones, a former Player and a performer in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “A Chorus Line” on Broadway, has been brought in to help with the big dance numbers. Jent, who plays the male lead, Bernardo, says that Jones is extremely dedicated and has great faith in the cast, which is encouraging them to work harder. “We rehearse every moment we have free time, and we even have been doing ‘push-up rumbles’ after school to gain some muscle,” Jent says.

These boys are being whipped into shape, but the end result will be dancing “unlike anything anyone has seen in a high school performance.”