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GNS Presents: Grease

Arts
The cast of Grease
With the performance dates not that far away (March 8, 9, 10 and 11), Ms. Smook, the Senior School Drama teacher, and Ms. Chaval, the Choir teacher, have been hard at work trying to teach students both lines of the play and the lyrics and tune to the songs. In addition to having to learn lines and lyrics, students are also having to learn dance steps that were choreographed by Andrea Lemus.

Ms. Smook, with the help of Ms. Chaval, has dedicated some of her time to answer a couple of questions about the musical and why it was chosen.

Why was Grease chosen? 

For a number of years, students have suggested Grease for the Spring Musical. It’s iconic, the music is great, and there are lots of roles with many opportunities for students to have solos. But for a long time, I’ve focused on reasons NOT to choose Grease. And there are a number of good reasons not to produce it. There are brief moments of smoking, underage alcohol consumption, innuendo in the lyrics, and issues around consent—just to name a few. And in the original version, the main character changes who she is (or at least how she dresses) to be liked by a boy.

On top of all of that, the characters in this play are often not kind to each other. So…WHY choose this play? We ultimately chose this play in order to give us the opportunity to have these conversations with our students, and our community. As Ms. Chaval puts it, “valuable lessons that are only brought up from the content in the script, and to see how we can take an old story and make it work for us—with our 21st Century lens; inclusive, kind and staying true to who we are.”

What drew you to it? 

I became intrigued by the play last year when I heard about the revival in London’s West End. I was curious as to why they would choose to do that play, and why now? Is it the music? The dancing? The iconic scenes and characters? The nostalgia? Then another production came to my attention, Bear Grease. Hip-Hop duo LightingCloud have created an all-Indigenous production that brings Indigenous humour, culture, and music to the iconic songs and characters. The creators tailor their show to celebrate the communities and territories they visit on tour. Bear Grease is a celebration of indigenous identity and culture—and I really hope it tours this way.

Another recent production, this one a parody, has recently won a legal battle that has been going on for some time. Vape The Musical is a modern and comic take on Grease. Sketchworks Comedy is the company that mocks the outdated themes and sometimes cringy plot points of the original. Paramount+ has also recently announced a Grease prequel called Grease: The Rise of the Pink Ladies.

Grease seems to be back in the zeitgeist, perhaps it never left. We seem to be ready to revisit these characters, the problematic themes and topics, and maybe re-frame, re-invent, question and perhaps sit with what has changed since the 50s and what has stayed the same. Everyone that is working on this show is having a great time singing these iconic songs, under the brilliant Musical Direction of Amanda Chaval, and dancing the amazing choreography created by the talented Andrea Lemus.

Who are the main cast members?

The story follows the young romance between sweet girl-next-door Sandy and tough-guy Danny as they navigate the pressures of school, friends, and trying to fit in. The whole cast of characters takes the stage with classics like “Greased Lighting,” “Summer Lovin’” and “You’re the One that I Want.” This musical and its iconic music, inspired by Elvis, Buddy Holly and Little Richard, defined an era and became a cult classic for many generations of teenagers.

What do you want students to take away from this play?

We went into rehearsal hoping to create a more inclusive version of Grease. We are attempting to take on the problematic aspects of the show and use staging, and a few approved script changes so folks can enjoy the music, the dancing and over the top characters that have made this musical a classic. Have we succeeded? I don’t know. The recent revivals of the show indicate the story and songs are still entertaining and can lead to some great discussions. We certainly have had a lot of great discussions in the rehearsal hall.

I have been so impressed and grateful for the perspectives, opinions and ideas that the members of the cast have brought forward throughout the process. Their collaboration has been a valuable part of the process. We hope that the twist at the end of our version will help audiences reflect on the importance of kindness, and how it’s ok to be yourself—that we can accept and celebrate what makes us different from one another.

How long have you been teaching Theatre? What do you like about it? 

I’ve been teaching Theatre at GNS for eight years. My two favourite parts of teaching theatre is number one—community building. Artists, performers, and technicians build community as they come together to create a performance. And then sharing that performance with the larger community, in that special moment of shared experience that only live performance can capture.

My second favourite part of teaching theatre is how theatre can be used to question, inform, challenge, and can be used as an agent for social change. Theatre is political. It’s about and for people. It’s a place where we present ideas, agree with each other, disagree with each other, laugh, and cry, and I hope for our production of Grease, audiences can reflect on what was, what is, what could be, and have a fun time singing and dancing along the way.