Fresh drama club eyes 'Bye Bye Birdie'

Elizabeth Nelson gives Ketchikan High School Musical Theatre Club attendees tips on how to audition for a role on Wednesday at Kayhi Auditorium. The theatre club is co-directed by Nelson and Bridget Mattson. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Next week, high school students will dust off their dancing shoes and show off their singing voices as auditions begin for “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Ketchikan High School’s first musical in over a decade.

The production is part of the new Kayhi musical theater club, directed by Elizabeth Nelson and Bridget Mattson. Teachers Trina Purcell and Deidra Nuss help with technical support and music.

This school year is the first for the club, which began meeting in early September.

Gatherings are held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday and 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday in the band room at Kayhi.

There is not an application process and students may join the club at any time, but must be members this quarter to receive educational credit for activities.

“Elizabeth and I have been wanting to help facilitate a musical for Kayhi students for years,” Mattson wrote in an email to the Daily News. “Superintendent (Beth) Lougee was supportive of this idea, which allowed us to move forward with planning and evolving the idea of the musical into a semester-long club that will culminate with performances of the musical.”

Mattson estimated that the club has 20 to 30 regular attendees, and that there “is a bit of ebb and flow” in attendance because some participants are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities.

“We have a fantastic group of high school students from Kayhi and homeschool right now and they are always engaged and enthusiastic about whatever subject we focus on in the club that day,” Mattson wrote.

During gatherings, Nelson and Mattson instruct participants on a variety of topics related to theater.

At a gathering this week, Mattson and Nelson led the club onto the Kayhi auditorium’s stage for the first time, where they were instructed on stage cues and safety. After their time on stage, the club returned to the band room to rehearse short songs and dance numbers.

“The purpose of the musical theater club is to help students learn the basics of stagecraft – acting, technical basics, movement, script analysis, etcetera,” according to Mattson. “We have spent time on acting basics and stage directions, scene development, movement, articulation, ensemble building, storytelling, theater etiquette, choreography, music and set design so far.”

 “I think the students enjoy the theater games the most,” Mattson continued. “They also enjoy working together and building scenes, whether from their own groups, open scenes, or script directed scenes. They are truly a wonderful group of theater kids and I look forward to the show they will have for the community in January.”

January brings a new year and a new musical.

“Bye, Bye, Birdie” will be the first Kayhi musical since the mid-1990s production of “Pippin,” according to Mattson and Nelson.

“We chose ‘Bye, Bye Birdie’ for several reasons,” Mattson wrote. “It is a show that has multiple leads, so the show is not carried by a single talent, which we felt was important for this first musical in years at Kayhi. It is a show that we knew we would be able to costume and build sets for with student input. The music is catchy and fun and the story is engaging and timely.”

According to Mattson, the production is a “1950’s story about teenagers and families whose lives are interrupted by the biggest pop star coming to their small town to bestow his ‘one last kiss’ on the president of his fan club there before joining the Army.”

Auditions will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday in the band room at Kayhi – students only need to attend one of the sessions.

To qualify for auditions, participants need to be a high school student – they do not have to be a Ketchikan High School student or a member of the musical theater club

“Some roles require strong singers; some roles require strong dancers; some roles require strong actors,” according to a flyer attached to a Ketchikan High School social media post. “Some roles require all three. We are looking for the best person for each role, regardless of grade level or previous experience.”

During the auditions, participants will learn and perform a 30-second dance routine, Mattson said.

Participants also will learn and sing a song, and read a small scene from the production’s script.

Callbacks will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“Not being called back for a certain role does not mean you aren’t in consideration – or that you aren’t in the show,” stated the flyer.

Mattson noted that “call backs are more in-depth, with specific character scenes to read, different songs to test range and vocal compatibility with others, and partnering different actor groups to try to put together the best overall part assignments to give us a great show in January.”

The final cast list will be posted by Nov. 4.

“Bye, Bye Birdie” will open on the evening of Jan. 25, with a matinee on Jan. 26.