Behind the scenes at the ‘Spitfire Grill’

By Taylor Cabalse
EDITOR IN CHIEF

Photo Courtesy of USD Theatre Department

Photo Courtesy of USD Theatre Department


After being vacant since the theatre department’s last production in May, the Vassiliadis Family Black Box Theatre in Camino Hall was transformed into Gilead, Wis. for its newest production, The Spitfire Grill. With a very tight space, the production cast and crew were able to transport the audience to the rural area grill and join the characters through their journey over the time span of the four seasons, beginning in winter.

Director and adjunct assistant professor of theatre arts and performance studies, Ryan Beattie Scrimger, pitched The Spitfire Grill because of the style of music and the ability to keep that cast size small.

“I proposed it because of the message it had; the potential it had to offer our students to show their own talent. Having a cast that varied, showed the talent on campus that we have these people who want to go run a business or perform brain surgery and they can sing like angels and can take us to another world,” Scrimger said. “It was a journey for all of them to go on and hopefully they can take the audience on it.”

During the school year, the Black Box serves as a classroom space for a variety of theatre courses. When deciding between the Studio Theatre or the Black Box, Scrimger saw the Black Box as an opportunity to symbolize an eagle’s wings. Making the stage diagonal emulates the sense of soaring and spreading wings similar to Percy, played by sophomore Lauren Fisher. Percy resembles the eagle spreading its wings because after being in prison for five years and now in a small country town she is unfamiliar with, Percy must grow from her non-trusting past to someone who depends on those around her.

Within the eight weeks of rehearsal, the cast came from different places but most had prior experience in theatre whether it was in high school performances or in a previous USD performance. Scrimger believes USD students are very dedicated and committed in all activities they take on and sees this when she is casting for productions. The cast of The Spitfire Grill brought willingness to fully immerse themselves into their role and explore the characters inner thoughts and desires, especially for those with roles that dealt with difficult issues.

“We invited the Women’s Center to spend an evening with us to talk about abuse and physical assault because of the relationship between Caleb and Shelby, and Percy and the death of her child from her stepfather,” Scrimger said. “So there are issues of abuse that exist in the play and that can be very dangerous and difficult to navigate. I found that the students were sensitive to it and willing to explore and try to honor those difficult things.”

The cast also did a series of exercises geared to identifying the moments in life when you feel trapped. They hoped to recover specific moments where they found relief or redemption. To further explore their role, they needed to understand what triggers their redemption and if it is themselves or others who forgive.

With the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching, Scrimger wanted the audience to leave the Black Box with a sense of hope.

“I hope audiences walk out feeling reflective about themselves and hopeful that they will be relieved. We all have pain and we all have suffering of some degree,” Scrimger said. “I wish for them to leave feeling hopeful and feeling that whatever relief needs to happen around them can be found.”

In the genre of the musical, an accurate depiction of life is not the first thing that comes to mind. Characters spontaneously burst into choreographed routines in the middle of daily activities and emotions are often sung rather than spoken. However, Scrimger believes that musicals are not an inaccurate portrayal of real life, they are simply a heightened sense of reality.

“We do break into song when we turn on soundtracks when we are feeling big emotion. Musicals are heightened reality because they are big emotions and the idea in the musical is you are feeling so much you can no longer speak, you have to start singing,” Scrimger said. “You can’t break into song without feeling things in the depth of your soul. We do break into song.”

Scrimger wanted the audience to leave with a sense of hope. Leading her cast through a series of exercises, she was able to have the actors fully immerse themselves into their role; it then became realistic. By the characters drastically changing from the beginning to the end of the play, the audience was able to grasp the concept that even in a town that seems as if time stands still, people are constantly changing in our lives that we are never able to predict.

“It’s so much fun. The musical numbers are toe tapping, the singing is excellent, the staging is a lot of fun and the comedy is good,” theatre arts and performance studies professor Jacob Bruce said. “It’s a good time and it’s a fun show.”

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