ATHABASCA – The degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and the EPC Drama class are surely shrinking as students undertake the first dramatic musical production at the school in about a decade with a title many of their parents will surely recognize.
It was 1984 — the cars were hot, the jeans were tight, the hair was big — and Footloose brought a tale of teenage love, rebellion and the power and freedom of dance to the big screen, and now nearly 40 years later, the Edwin Parr Composite (EPC) drama class is singing and dancing their way closer to a December curtain call at the Nancy Appleby Theatre.
The class gave the Advocate a sneak peek as they practiced at the school Nov. 16.
Director Brittany Topola says she had two big goals when she started teaching drama at EPC, first a musical, and then The Outsiders, but with the pandemic it didn’t exactly work out that way. Now with a highly successful stage production of S.E Hinton’s coming of age novel under their belt, it was time for the class to undertake a full-blown musical, she said.
Joined by choreographer Megan Mackay and stage manager Laura Barr, Topola said it has been a challenge and a lot of demanding work by the students, but she can’t wait for the community to see what they have put together for Dec. 1, 2 and 3, with shows starting at 7 p.m. each night, and an additional Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 3.
There are a few reasons, said Topola.
“It’s a nice musical to bring to a school that hasn’t done a musical before … It’s not too heavy on singing or too heavy on dancing. It was the perfect balance because there are some you look at, like Hamilton is a show you sing all the way through and Come from Away is a show you sing all the way through,” she said, adding Hairspray was an early option but they also wanted to bring something relatable and recognizable to a small-town audience.
“We wanted to make sure that we had the appropriate cast to do something like that,” said Mackay. “We wanted something that was recognizable in terms of the title, right? We didn't want to choose something that nobody's ever heard of before because with it being the first one, we wanted to have it be a unique draw for sure.”
Footloose fit that bill, and now four rookie, high school actors are preparing for their big debuts on stage as Ryder Slupski takes on the role of Ren, who moves to a small, religious town that has outlawed dancing and rock music. After falling for a reverend’s daughter, Ariel, played by Sofie Mestinsek, and befriending Willard, played by Jesse Jackson, and Rusty, played by Maizie Holdis, the group works to overturn the dance ban.
Slupski, who only started in drama last year, said he certainly wasn’t going out for the lead role in a production of Footloose when he auditioned, but it has been working out so far.
“I just knew I was auditioning for a play. I had no clue it was a musical,” he said. “So, I have not sung ever, not in the shower, not in the car, so it’s a brand-new experience for me, but I'm enjoying it. It's pretty fun.”
None of the four leads were all that familiar with the original Footloose, but Mestinsek, who has been singing and dancing since she was a young child, only joined the school in September and actually auditioned for the play via Zoom from her old school last June, said she was really excited to learn it was a musical.
“I told my parents and my family, and they were really excited like, ‘Oh my gosh, I loved Footloose when I was in high school,’” she said.
Jackson said he didn’t know a lot about the story before, but he fell in love with Willard’s character after digging in.
“I didn’t know a lot about it before, but I do now,” he said.
Holdis, who has been singing and dancing on stage since she was a kid as well, has been off the stage in the last while to focus on sports but is back in front of the lights and is “carrying the show” with her “killer voice”, her co-stars say.
She’s also a self-proclaimed Just Dance pro, she joked.
“I’m really excited because it’s a really fun musical for us to get out there and do. We’ve worked so hard on this, and we’ve come a far way,” she said, adding that after last year’s production of The Outsiders, the bar has been set very high.
“A lot of people in this town, we’re told, are really looking forward to this play,” said Jackson.
“Just come out for a good time,” said Slupski. “We’re going to try to do our best and get a few smiles and a few laughs.”
EPC’s production of Footloose hits the Nancy Appleby Theatre stage in Athabasca for four shows, starting Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., with follow-up productions on Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. A special matinee production will also start Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and 65-plus. The EPC Foods class will also be selling cookies with profits going towards both the Foods and Drama/Music program.
“Come support your school, support your kids, they're proud to show it and it will be awesome,” said Topola. “I know we have a community that backs our kids. It’s not like sports where we're out at a tournament every weekend. This is our tournament.”