Riverton • The stage reposes in hushed darkness as muted moonlight shines down on an actor and actress rehearsing lines from Grease.
"I wish you would have been there," Roger, played by Carter Wilcox, reveals to his love interest, Jan, played by Emily Wiscomb.
"You do?" she asks with puppy dog eyes.
It is eight days to opening night as Riverton High School's Performing Arts Department rehearses its production of the musical Grease, which opens Nov. 15 and runs through Nov. 19.
In the week prior to opening night, Clin Eaton, chairman of the Performing Arts Department, and director Erin McGuire pull together the disparate elements of the show – actors and scenes, lighting, sound effects and music to create cohesion and synergy. It is, at times, tedious and nail-biting, its disconcertedness interspersed with moments of magic.
"There is a reason why it's called 'Hell Week,'" the show's costumer, Mary Smith, notes.
The Monday sitzprobe a technical term for the first combined rehearsal of actors and pit musicians is for Act I; Tuesday is dedicated to Act II. Performers rehearse lines that cue the seven musicians housed below in the pit a room, painted entirely black as its name implies underneath the stage.
Actors above ring the edges of the pit, some standing, some sitting, an occasional foot dangling, rehearsing lines to cue the musicians below that elicit the music to accompany them. Then, one after another, each song is practiced.
"Guys, you've got to sing out," Eaton calls. Later on, he instructs actors, "You have to be so deliberate. You have to be so obvious," in their cue lines so that pit members, unable to see them, can hear.
David Faires, Riverton's band director, accentuates the air with his baton as he sets the tempo in conjunction with Eaton's cues.
"We need it slower with the 'tell me more, tell me more,'" Eaton tells him, halting the song "Summer Nights" partway through. The song begins again, Faires concentrating on pairing the chorus with the pit a notch more slowly.
The rehearsal is tenuous, as the patience it demands gives way to talking by the cast. "Please stop talking," McGuire interjects every so often. But it is during "Greased Lightning" that the pit's beat and the actors' voices coalesce. The song coheres " …go Greased Lightning, go Greased Lightning…" as raw magic electrifies the air, offering a glimmer of what is to come.
Wednesday the cast runs through the musical as the "techies" above adjust the lighting for each scene. Scenes are rehearsed and re-rehearsed, as McGuire and Eaton focus, again and again, on details, details, details.
During the "Greased Lightning" scene in which the cast's males need to look more like hoodlums, McGuire admonishes, "Guys, be tougher. You look like pansies." When that is not enough, she commands, "Give me tough testosterone faces, people."
While the pit practices elsewhere, Eaton both accompanies and shouts directions from the upright piano shoved up against the stage.
A trio of actresses sing, "…Freddy, my love, Freddy, my love, Freddy, my lo-ve…" in doo-wop fashion. Eaton halts them mid-song as he hears errant notes. "Do all of you want to sing the same note?" he asks. "I want it to sound good," speaking the words that motivate their countless hours spent rehearsing for a community they hope will come.