KAYLIN DEAN leads Kingswood football players through their first rehearsal as bottle dancers for Fiddler on the Roof at the Village Players Theater. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 04, 2013WOLFEBORO — One of the big numbers in the musical Fiddler on the Roof is "Tradition."
It's safe to say that tradition is taking a big part in the upcoming production of the show at the Village Players Theater in Wolfeboro.
And that tradition goes right back to the football field, of all places.
Back in 1976, current Kingswood coach Chip Skelley was a student at the high school and his team was in the midst of a state championship run.
Midway through the season, Ray Lord, who at the time was running the theater program at the high school, was looking for some big guys to play the bottle dancers in a wedding scene.
"Ray Lord proposed it to coach (Tom) Lovett, and he threw it at us," Skelley remembers. Mike Lovett, one of the coach's sons, was already in the show, so he roped some of his teammates into the part.
Fast forward to this fall and the Village Players are about to put the production on their stage. Rosemary Lounsbury, who directed the show for the Village Players in 1988 on the Kingswood stage, returned to the helm for the 25th anniversary of the show and decided that this time, she was going to dig deeper and go back to the 1976 show as well.
In 1988, the bottle dancer parts were cut out of the show, but Lounsbury was determined that they were going to be part of the show this time around and she knew just who to ask.
As it turns out, there were a few connections being made back in 1976 that came into play in 2013.
Lounsbury's cousin, Bill McCullough, was in the Kingswood production of Fiddler on the Roof.
"I went in 1976 because my cousin Bill was in the show," Lounsbury said. She remembered seeing the football players doing their dance and when it came time to cast this show, she wanted to go back to that tradition.
As it turns out, Bill McCullough's brother, Tom, is an assistant football coach at Kingswood and his son, also Tom, plays on the team and is one of the captains.
With the connection in place, Lounsbury approached Skelley about the possibility of some of his players doing the show.
"He said, how many do you need," Lounsbury said.
When Skelley first bridged the idea with his players, there was some skepticism, but then he told them that he had done it when he was in high school.
"So they figured they'd give it a go," Skelley said.
Skelley pointed out that he was happy to see the kids branching out of their regular comfort zone and into something totally different.
"I think there's a stigma, especially with football players," Skelley said. "They're showing that they're not afraid to go and do it."
"They're going to meet people through the show that they may not have met," Lounsbury added. "And they can put it on their college applications.
"And I think the audience will be very appreciative," she continued.
"It might be the hit," Skelley added, noting his players are taking it seriously, working hard on the dance, even performing it in front of their teammates.
Of course, Skelley didn't get away without performing a bit either and he was quick to point out that he actually had more to do than just the bottle dance. He had to sing. And to this day, the song has not left his head.
"It was Sunrise, Sunset," Skelley said. "I sang it for the boys the other day, they got a kick out of it."
Much like his players this year, the dancing and singing were out of Skelley's wheelhouse in his high school days. In fact, when he was in elementary school, he had a line in a production of the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and he could never get the inflection right, so they actually cut the line from the show.
"I've got the words (to Sunrise, Sunset) in my head because it was so far out of my comfort zone, I had to stick to it and work hard on it," Skelley said. "The biggest thing for me was having to sing a song."
Though the show comes with choreography, designed by Jerome Robbins, it has to be adjusted to fit the stage space and other considerations. The job of adjusting all the meticulous choreography without making major changes fell to Kaylin Dean. She also had the opportunity to teach the football players how to be dancers.
While the group was larger at the first rehearsal, it was down to a manageable five heading to the final week before the show. A football injury sidelined Abe DeMaio heading to the final week. But John LeMay, McCullough, Rory Coughlin and Josh Stanley all took to the stage for the first night of tech week on Sunday in costumes and ready to roll.
"I just needed to teach them a few things," Dean said. "But I think they're having fun."
At their first rehearsal, Dean and one of her dance students, Gwen Collins, led the Knights through the steps and by the time they left on that first day, they were well on their way to establishing themselves as bottle dancers.
And when the show takes to the stage this weekend (Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m.) and again next weekend (same times), Skelley knows just what his players will have to look forward to.
"I can remember looking out at lots of faces with a lot of big smiles," Skelley said.
And for Lounsbury, bringing everything full circle will indeed make the show a treat for local audiences.
"This show's all about tradition and completing the circle," Lounsbury said. "How perfect is it that we can continue this tradition."
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.