The actors and directors of Madison Theatre spent the past two months working on their historic production of “Holiday Inn” at the North Madison Christian Church located in the small town of Madison, IN. Not only is their production the first production of “Holiday Inn” performed by a high school in Indiana, it is also being judged by the International Thespian Society for possible inclusion in the International Thespian Festival.
“We have participated in Playfest at Hanover College and at regional theatre conferences for the International Thespian Society,” said Aaron Kelsey, director of Madison Theatre. “But we have never been judged for the International Thespian Festival.”
The enthusiasm, determination and excitement of the actors and directors about being the first high school theatre program in Indiana to produce “Holiday Inn” is unmatched.
“I love that our program gets to represent this musical production for Indiana high schools,” said Melanie Torline, assistant director of Madison Theatre. “‘Holiday Inn’ is a timeless musical with fantastic music from Irving Berlin.”
Madison Theatre is not new to pioneering productions for Indiana high schools. Kelsey stated that Madison Consolidated High School was the first high school in Indiana to produce “All Shook Up” in 2008.
According to Kelsey, “Holiday Inn” was on Broadway just a few years ago and then it was released to regional theaters shortly after.
“I’ve wanted to produce ‘Holiday Inn’ since I saw the clips of it on Broadway and as soon as it was released for amateurs I jumped on it,” he said. “It’s the perfect show to welcome in the holiday season. I love Irving Berlin and this old school style of musical comedy, and I have always loved celebrating the holidays.”
Torline said the directors of Madison Theatre wanted to have the production judged to get an outside perspective of their show.
“I know that our creative team, cast, crew and orchestra will perform the show to the best of our ability,” she said. “The rubric that the show is being judged with is quite intense, but I think it will be a good experience for our program to hear from these three judges.”
As for the additional stress that comes along with being judged, Kelsey stated that it is really not as bad as one would think.
“Every production causes a certain amount of stress. It’s part of the game,” he said. “Sometimes the stress is good, sometimes it’s bad. A lot of that depends on how well the students have fulfilled their commitments.”
Despite struggles such as finishing everything in a time crunch and students in the production splitting their time between sports and theatre, Kelsey is optimistic about the production.
“It’s always fun to produce a show that is new to your audiences but is also a known title,” he said.
Shakin’ the Stress Away
Madison Theatre senior Sam Hall, who is part of the dancing and singing ensemble and plays Stanley in “Holiday Inn,” shared his thoughts about the additional stress of being judged and being the first high school in Indiana to produce the show.
“We’re just trying to make it as good and as crisp as we can because we know that it will be judged,” he said. “It has to be as pristine and just as good as the last performance. Every night has to be as close to perfect as we can get it.”
Hall also shared that Kelsey is not telling the cast and crew which night the judges are coming.
“We don’t know when we’re being judged and we don’t know when we need to be at our best, so we just have to be as great as we can for all four performances of the show,” he said.
Hall stated that the dancing and singing ensemble has been working hard and putting in extra work on their dances for the past two months.
“It’s a big responsibility. There were a few of us who got together over breaks and we worked on dances,” he said. “There have also been one or two times where we stayed late or showed up early to work on different things. There have been a lot of people hard at work.”
Emily Skirvin, a Madison Theatre senior in the singing and dancing chorus, stated that she was the one who held the additional practice for the chorus so that everyone could get their dances down.
“The singing and dancing chorus for ‘Holiday Inn’ is definitely more hectic than choruses for other shows because we have 16 dance numbers and we wear a different costume for 13 of the 16 dance numbers,” she said. “We definitely have to stay on our toes.”
Skirvin also shared her take on how the judges affect the stress level of the cast.
“It’s kind of stressful because the judges are not just amazed by the dancing, they’re listening for your vocal parts and they know what your vocal parts should be,” she said. “You really have to make sure that you sing your vocal parts and keep your facial expressions and be just as into the scene as everyone else.”
Leading the Way
Ethan Mack, a Madison Theatre sophomore who plays the lead role of Jim Hardy in the production, shared what it feels like to play a lead role in a show that is being judged.
“It’s very exciting and also very stressful. There’s a lot of eyes on you,” he said. “The lines and the lyrics are something that comes along with it but putting in costumes and quick changes with them is very hectic.”
Mack shared that one of the most stressful parts is making sure that the song “White Christmas,” which he sings in the production, is the best it can be.
“It is a very popular song and it pushes me to get it down pat,” he said. “The show could be great, but if I mess that song up people would be talking about the guy who messed up ‘White Christmas.’”
Vanina Kelsey, a Madison Theatre senior who plays Lila Dixon in the production, agrees that it can be stressful at times knowing that there are judges coming to the show.
“It’s very stressful. I hope that the judges like it,” she said. “I keep thinking about if the judges are going to like what I’m doing. I just keep critiquing myself about what they would like.”
Despite feeling stressed, Kelsey is excited about “Holiday Inn.”
“It’s always exciting pulling everything together,” she said.
Luka Chabukashvili, a Madison Theatre senior playing the role of Ted Hanover in the production, stated that even though quick costume changes are stressful, they are his favorite part of the production.
“I’ve always liked costume changes. I think quick changes are really exciting,” he said. “It’s really tense and then you have to go out onstage and be a completely different person. That’s probably my favorite part.”
Chabukashvili also stated that he has wanted to be in a production of “Holiday Inn” since seeing the production at Derby Dinner Playhouse in 2018.
“I remember watching ‘Holiday Inn’ at Derby Dinner Playhouse and thinking that it would be a cool show to be in,” he said.
Shelby Priebe, a Madison Theatre freshman who plays the lead role of Linda Mason in the production, shared how it feels to be in her very first high school theatre production while knowing how high the stakes are for this specific show.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s stressful at times, but I love it.”
Priebe shared that she loves singing and dancing, so even though it can be stressful at times, this show is a perfect fit for her.
Behind the Scenes
Connor Steveley, a Madison Theatre senior who is both the stage manager for the production and also plays a role in the singing and dancing ensemble, agrees that there is a lot of pressure on this specific production from both the technical perspective and theatrical perspective.
“We’re getting judged, so that’s obviously stressful,” he said. “This show is the first big musical production of the season that Madison is producing this year as well, so that’s also stressful.”
Madison Theatre senior and stage crew chief Ash Dunham stated that the hardest part of “Holiday Inn” from a technical point of view is that there are so many props and actors in this production.
“It’s so intricate and different from other productions we’ve done. With ‘Tarzan’ and our other productions we’ve done recently, those were make-believe,” they said. “This show is more real, so it’s definitely a change.”
Plenty to Be Thankful For
Even though there can be stress and doubt that stems from the pressure of being judged and being the first high school in the state to do this production, the Madison Theatre students and directors have stayed positive throughout their “Holiday Inn” journey.
“We just try to keep positive vibes,” said Maddie Felts, a Madison Theatre senior who plays the role of Louise Badger in the production. “We just try to get the show to be the best it can be.”
Hall said that theatre has been a very positive aspect of his high school career.
“It’s a really great environment,” said Hall. “I think that a lot of people have matured and become better individuals through theatre.”
From a directorial perspective, Kelsey stated that even though the stakes are high, he is not necessarily more stressed about this production than any of the other productions he has done.
“I want my students to perform at their best for every production,” Kelsey said. “Of course, I’m hoping they are at their top when the judges are watching.”
Torline said that her favorite part of theatre is getting to experience the journey of a production from auditions to live performances.
“I love when I get to see the audience enjoy the show that we have been preparing for months,” she said. “I also love watching our students bring the show to life and transform into these fun characters.”
As their “Holiday Inn” journey comes to a close, Madison Theatre can expect to see nothing but “Blue Skies” from now on.
“Holiday Inn” Information
Madison Theatre’s production of “Holiday Inn” ran through Nov. 17 at North Madison Christian Church. Madison Theatre’s upcoming production of “Newsies” will run at the North Madison Christian Church from March 13-15, 2020.
Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn” is based off of the 1942 movie of the same name and tells the story of Jim Hardy as he attempts to open up his very own holiday-themed hotel. With the help of Louise Badger and Hardy’s friends from his old show business days, he is able to accomplish just that. Linda Mason, a performer-turned-schoolteacher who lived on the farm where Hardy is trying to open Holiday Inn, comes along and quickly becomes Hardy’s love interest. Ted Hanover, Hardy’s former best friend, and Lila Dixon, Hardy’s former fiancée, make appearances along the way that tend to complicate the situations during the production.Memorable Irving Berlin songs such as “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies” and “Heat Wave” are all included in this production.