Inside the year’s biggest production

Student performers take readers backstage into the fast-paced world of theater as they prepare for last weekend’s American Celebration, the school’s largest scholarship fundraiser.

Singing and dancing in the spotlight isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Chapman dancers, singers and actors, who were chosen in September, spent an average of 60 hours during the past three weeks preparing for American Celebration last weekend.

Audiences enjoy the finished product of the Broadway-themed stage performance, but the hours of dedication before the theater lights dim is where it all begins. On top of heavy academic loads, the actors rehearsed weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., but a passion for the arts made it all worthwhile.

Returning to the AmCel stage a second time, sophomore Derek Nemechek often had no time for homework and was rarely home.

“It’s worth it. I’d rather compromise my reputation academically for the sake of being able to perform,” he said.

Performers dedicated their lives to the 29-year tradition that generates an average of $2 million in scholarship money.

“I’ve been exhausted, and it is hard to catch back up on everything,” Nemechek said.

Nemechek left class early for evening rehearsals and spent hours in the dance studio but loved every minute of it.

“It’s nice to interact with theatre and vocal students. Performing with President [Jim Doti] is a benefit too. He is such a character,” Nemechek said. Doti acts and dances in AmCel every year.

Dale Merrill, director and the department chair of dance, said this show is unlike many others because preparations are swift, like an awards show where there are only a few weeks to train.

“It’s like a microwave production, it comes together so fast,” Merrill said. “You see students grab on for the ride and watch them grow so much every night of rehearsal.”

Sophomore dancer Natalie Iscovich researched the music, ranging from jazz to disco, and the origins of the dances.

“I pull from personal experience as well to express the intention of each individual piece,” Iscovich said. “Combine that with a great costume, and it’s easy to slip into someone else’s skin.”

With the pressure on, senior Amy Dabalos, chorus member and soloist, approached each number positively and with confidence.

“It’s also very rewarding to perform in Memorial Hall with the bright lights, amazing costumes and an absolutely incredible orchestra accompanying us,” Dabalos said.

The rigors of live performance, such as preparing for mishaps and quick costume changes, are stressful, but the key is to keep calm, Iscovich said.

“You have to know what to do in any situation and professionally fix anything that may go wrong on stage,” Iscovich said.

Equally as challenging is having multiple roles in a single number, Nemechek said.

“I dance in the section I have a vocal solo in, so one moment I am kicking and leaping and then I am trying to cool down so I can sing,” Nemechek said.

Their commitment cut into their social lives and Facebook usage, Merrill said.

“The students, when accepted into the show, make a significant sacrifice with their social lives,” Merrill said.

For Nemechek, it is important that he gives back to the school that has given to him.

“I wouldn’t be able to come here if I didn’t get scholarship money,” Nemechek. “In a small way, I feel like I am helping other people like me that get in.”

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