When the last school bell of the day rings, students hurry outside to enjoy the blue skies of a rare sunny Friday in October. Most teens are eager to leave campus and put the school week behind them. But inside the Performing Arts Center at Ridgefield High School, dozens of students are hard at work serving as the cast and crew for Twelfth Night, a Shakespearean comedy about mistaken identity, crossed signals, and misdirected love. This rehearsal is just one of many they have committed to make this production a professional-level performance.
Even after a full day of school, there is only a short break before rehearsal, so everyone enjoys these last few moments. A girl lies across three theatre seats for a quick nap. Onstage, a few friends chat about their day. Someone standing at the door has a whole pizza, and he holds the box open to share a slice. There’s a short burst of music as someone walks by strumming a ukulele, and another person follows, singing. In the last several weeks, these students have built an incredible production from the ground up. Their first performance is just a week away, and it’s amazing how much the production has changed since auditions two months ago.
Crab Dog monologue
Auditioning for any show can be nerve-wracking. But for this show, actors had to memorize a Shakespearean monologue—a bigger challenge, by any measure.
Liam Schafer and Conner Rippee both chose the exact same monologue for auditions. “It’s Crab Dog!” Rippee exclaims. “I mean, it’s about a dog named Crab.” He launches into the monologue from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, “I think Crab, my dog, may be the sourest natured dog that ever lived…”
Schafer picks up the line midstream, “...my mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling.” They both remember it word-for-word. Schafer says that before audition day, they practiced together. “We rehearsed off each other.”
Rippee chimes in, “And we realized Liam had a more modern version than mine, the words were different.” As it turned out, their audition slots were back-to-back, so they performed the near-identical pieces one after the other. Both won roles in the play, Schafer as Toby and Rippee as Sebastian.
Elle Lutz chose a monologue from As You Like It, another comedy. The character in her monologue (Rosalind) mirrored the role Lutz ended up with in Twelfth Night (Viola), both characters are women who disguise themselves as men, leading to comically misguided romance.
Stage crew members didn’t have to audition with a monologue, but they still had to apply for a position. For general crew positions, students could apply by scanning a QR code with their phone from flyers posted around the school. To be a crew lead, they needed additional experience from taking the RHS Stagecraft class, which develops skills in scenery, costuming, lighting, and sound. Everyone is part of this play with intention, earning their admission to the show long before it ever hits the stage.
The Show Must Go On
Theatre instructor Kaitlyn Etter is an accomplished performer with a resume that includes Broadway touring shows; she has invested years in building the RHS Theatre program into the force it is today. Unfortunately, she isn’t at today’s rehearsal. And she won’t be at rehearsals for some time to come, as she is out on maternity leave. But the show must go on, as the saying goes, and her husband, F. Tyler Burnet, an experienced professor and performer, has stepped in as her understudy.
He starts the rehearsal by sharing a greeting from Etter with the group. “She said, ‘Let them know I miss them!’” Someone asks how she is doing. “Should be any day now” he replies, smiling broadly for a moment before returning to director mode. He gives notes from the previous day’s rehearsal, lets them know about changes made to the lighting plot (the plan for how lights are used throughout the show), which means “If you feel no light on your face or on your eyeballs,” he says, “you should move!” which earns a laugh from the cast and crew.
In addition to Burnet, RHS French teacher Rebecca Frommlet and visual art teacher Shelle House are assistant directors. House has a background in stagecraft and costuming, and Frommlet handles logistics and team building. Frommlet announces a community building activity for tonight’s rehearsal.
Frommlet holds up a box of clothespins, explaining that everyone will get one to place on their shirts and hoodies. “Your job is to steal clothespins from other people when they aren’t paying attention,” she says. “The person with the most clothespins at the end of rehearsal will win a fabulous prize tomorrow.”
Everyone is excited as clothespins are handed out, and Frommlet fields questions about the game. Can we keep the clothespin as a memento? “Yes.” What if we get caught stealing the clothespin? “I trust you to give it back or to scuttle away.” What if they refuse to give it back? “You’ll get disqualified if it gets out of hand.” There’s some discussion about clothespin strategy, where to pin it so it’s less likely to be stolen. Then, as Shakespeare said in King Henry IV, Part I, the game is afoot. And the crew starts setting the stage for the top of Act 3.
Spotlight On Crew
Rehearsals are about more than just rehearsing the actors’ lines. The crews also have to test everything they’ll use in upcoming performances.
An “All cast on stage!” announcement brings performers in for tonight’s mic tests. Each character has been fitted with a microphone, and they have to be tested one by one. Liam Schafer comes to center stage.
From the control booth, a voice asks, “Who do you play?”
Schafer responds, “Sir Toby. I’m mic #2” He delivers a few lines, and the mic sounds good.
The voice asks, “Do you yell in the show?”
Schafer thinks for a moment. “Uh, yeah.” He turns to stride upstage, and without warning, shouts, “OUT, SCAB!” Several people jump at the sudden noise.
But the voice from the sound crew is unfazed. “Yeah, you’re good. Next.”
As the mic tests run, Daniel Hess sits in the front row, checking his script. He’s the Stage Manager Shadow for the show. “It’s like the apprentice of an apprentice,” he explains. He’s training under the Apprentice Stage Manager, who trains under the Stage Manager. The cross-training ensures that performances aren’t interrupted, even when people are absent. “My job is to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, that cues happen when they’re supposed to happen,” Hess says. He keeps reviewing his notes in preparation for Act 3.
In the wings, Apprentice Stage Manager Madelyn Ventura listens intently on a headset and watches the action onstage. She lets Stage Manager Elliana Lewis know what is happening backstage (costumes and makeup), onstage (acting and sets), and offstage (props and curtains) so they can coordinate it with the action in the control booth (sound and lighting). Their work is a small part of the vast preparation for each show that the audience doesn’t see.
Backstage, Costumes Lead Gabbie Hemmelman organizes all of the show’s costumes in separate lockers, ensuring every costume piece is marked inside with the actor’s name on blue painter’s tape. Her work started on this show before rehearsals even began, when she created a lookbook with costume concepts for each character. She pulls two of the costumes for Viola: a puffy-sleeved satin dress, and a dress with spaghetti straps and a satin bow. Even the colors have meaning, “The pink dress when she’s happy, and the black one when she’s mourning her brother.” She flips the hem of the pink dress to show where one of the costume crew members learned how to alter the dress into a bubble hem. Hemmelman and her crew plan, source, and alter each costume themselves, often on a minimal budget.
Hemmelman works with Harlie Rivas-Rockstrom, the Makeup Lead, to plan the timing for costumes, hair, and makeup for every member of the cast before each performance—as well as the changes that happen during the show. “We do quick changes too,” she said, “so we have to figure out how and when to do those.” During last year’s production of The Addams Family, with 40 cast members, they broke into multiple groups, each taking shifts of actors, to handle all of the costumes, hair, and makeup. Over the last few years, the crew has grown from five to 20 to handle all types of shows seamlessly and effectively.
Back onstage, the stage crew moves large set pieces into place for Act 3, plywood boxes that stand in for different buildings and scenery. Because actors also stand atop them, the boxes are quite heavy. Two crew members get beneath the largest box, centering the weight on their backs while several other crew members carry from the sides. It looks awkward now, but during the performances, they’ll have practiced the movements so much that the pieces will move swiftly and silently into place, moved by crew dressed in black to the bright, reflective tape marks where each piece belongs.
Next up is Fight Call. Anyone who has a scene with a scripted shove or scuffle or sword fight takes a moment to practice before Act 3 begins. Some excellent fake stage punches are thrown (Director Burnet is an experienced Fight Captain), and in one scene, plungers replace swords to great comic effect. As Quinn Hemrich completes a fight scene, Liam Schafer zooms by to steal a clothespin. Staying true to the role of the Fool, Hemrich dramatically mimes shock and horror at the betrayal and loss of the single clothespin.
The lights dim as they prepare for Act 3. The sound crew plays birdsong and the light crew brings up the stage lights. A spotlight falls on Elle Lutz as Viola, walking on stage with Quinn Hemrich directly behind, banging a tambourine in time with their tandem steps. They do the entry flawlessly, but there’s a minor issue with the sound transition, so they do it again, giving the crew time to figure out the issue. Then they proceed with the rest of the play.
Offstage, Raven Meade silently mouths words, rehearsing the part of Antonio. Kennadi Jones flips through her highlighted script to double check Olivia’s lines for the upcoming scene. They both watch the action onstage closely, waiting for their cues to enter.
Sitting cross-legged against a nearby wall, a crew member waits patiently for their cue. Invisible to everyone else, they wait for their moment to sneak closer to the stage to take an actor’s sword, then return it to its place offstage. It’s all very organized, with everyone—onstage and off—ready to play their part.
The students’ sense of organization extends beyond rehearsals to their remarkably busy schedules. It’s amazing how much these students are involved in outside of rehearsal. Costumes Lead Hemmelman has meetings before school and after school as an officer for Thespians (an honor society for theatre students) and HOSA (an organization for future health professionals), and is also a regular volunteer at the Ridgefield Family Resource Center. Elle Lutz, who plays Viola, is Thespian President, a Washington state Thespian Officer, has a job on the weekends, is applying to colleges, and keeps up with homework to maintain her grades. “It can be a lot, but it’s all worth it when the hard work pays off,” she says.
Kennadi Jones, who plays Olivia, even multi-tasks while she’s at rehearsal. In a back corner offstage, her face is bathed in the light of her Chromebook as she applies for college scholarships. It’s her fifth production, so she’s experienced now at balancing her time. In addition to acting and school, she has a job at a fitness studio and works as a tutor. Until this year, she was also on the RHS volleyball team. Oh, and she wakes up at 5 a.m. each day so she can do an exercise video, “Because you have to fit it in some time!” she says brightly.
Considering their ages, these students have an impressive level of theatre experience. Quinn Hemrich, who plays the Fool, has been acting since 4th grade, working with Longview’s Columbia Theatre in classes, camps, and productions, as well as in RHS shows. This year, Hemrich will be on Portland Center Stage’s Teen Council and will take classes there as well. It’s no surprise that in his spare time, before and after rehearsals, Hemrich has been working with another student on the song that will close the production. “The lyrics were already in the show,” Hemrich says, “but we had to watch other productions to see what they did with the music. We literally finished figuring the song out before rehearsal today.” They’ll record it later so the rest of the cast can learn the lyrics to sing along at the end.
When the students recount the number of productions they’ve been in, several mention the time that they missed due to COVID, giving the number of productions, then a qualifier. “Five—but we had an online production one year,” or “We did the production, but it was hybrid online and in person,” or “I was in the show, but we had to wear masks.” The productions still went on, but they were different. It almost feels like these teens are making up for lost time, taking advantage of every minute they have on stage or behind the scenes.
Clothespin Thief Imprisoned
After closing the Chromebook on her application, Jones prepares to go back onstage. She lifts her hand, and a prop ring, a little too large for her finger, falls to the floor. She scrambles after it, not just to retrieve the prop but also to keep the ring from rolling and making noise that could be heard onstage.
After finding the ring, Jones joins Rippee in the spotlight, where they stand together and clasp hands as the enamored Olivia and Sebastian. They finish the scene, and from the control booth, Burnet offers them a teasing note on the performance. “It’s not a handshake, like it’s a business deal. They like each other!” There’s laughter and blushing, and they run the scene again, this time with a closer, warmer stance.
At the final scene in Act 3, all of the actors are onstage except Megan Hopper, whose character, Malvolio, is imprisoned. On cue, Hopper dramatically pops out of the jail cell door—with sleeves that are loaded with clothespins. Hopper and some of the other actors get the giggles, and everyone else smiles and laughs. It has been a long day. They complete Act 3 to applause and cheers.
Dedication to Their Craft
For every moment onstage, there are many more hours spent practicing lines and making costumes, setting spotlights and blocking movements, checking microphones and making scenery. These students wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re eager for people to see the show, and they each have different reasons they think people will enjoy it.
Halle Lawson says her role as Maria is an example of how funny the show can be. “I love how quick-witted and sassy she is. The show is a comedy, and I think the funny bits are what people will love the most about it.”
Connor Rippee, who plays Sebastian, says, “I have a feeling people will enjoy the fight scenes the most, because most of the interpretation is done on our side. I’m having a lot of fun rehearsing for the play, and I can’t wait to perform it!”
Elle Lutz, who plays Viola, hopes people will enjoy the Shakespearean language. “At first I was really intimidated by Shakespeare,” she says, “But Shakespeare’s writing is meant to be performed. Throughout our process, we make it very clear what our intentions are and what we mean. This show is so amazing, and I’m excited for everyone to see it!”
By the time the auditorium doors close tonight, the sun will be setting. The dedicated actors and crew will leave the high school on this Friday night—and they’ll be back to rehearse on Saturday and Sunday, too. Over the next two weekends, they’ll prove that there really are no small roles in RHS Theatre; they have come together behind the scenes and onstage to breathe life into this ambitious production.
By sharing their own spin on a Shakespearean play that has been making audiences laugh since the 1600s, these high school students follow in the footsteps of longstanding theatre traditions. They’ll perform Twelfth Night to entertain, delight, and inspire live audiences—and they hope you’ll buy a ticket to join the fun.
Performances dates and times for Twelfth Night are:
Friday, Oct. 27th at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 28th at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 3rd at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday Nov. 4th at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets will be available for purchase at the door on performance days, and advance tickets can be purchased online at https://wa-ridgefield-lite.intouchreceipting.com/rhstheatre.