“Mean Girls” High School Version at Dr. Phillips Center

mean girls cast

Dr. Phillips Youth and Pre-professional productions sets kids up for success on stage and for life.

 

By T. Michele Walker

 

Cady Heron may have grown up on an African savanna, but nothing prepared her for the wild and vicious ways of her strange new home: Suburban Illinois.

 

How will this naïve newbie rise to the top of the popularity pecking order? By taking on The Plastics, a trio of lionized frenemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George. But when Cady and her friends devise a “Revenge Party” to end Regina’s reign, she learns the hard way that you can’t cross a Queen Bee without getting stung.

 

Adapted from Tina Fey’s hit 2004 film, “Mean Girls” was nominated for a staggering 12 Tony Awards. Dr. Phillips Center is bringing “Mean Girls” to the stage for their 2024 Youth Theater Production Summer Intensive. Directed by Eric Quang Gelb, musical direction by Alex Pollard and choreography by Ellie Potts Barrett, this production will be a highlight of the Central Florida theatrical summer season.

 

Central Florida Lifestyle Magazine had the opportunity to chat with the director, Eric Quang Gelb, who has some inspiring words about “Mean Girls” and the importance of arts education.

 

Michele: How are rehearsals going? You’re in production week mode, so how are you feeling?

 

Eric: I’d say one of my biggest passions as a director is reframing the technical rehearsal process for performers both when I work with professional adults and when I work with professional teenagers. It is always a stressful time. There are always a lot of things happening, a lot of balls in the air, but we really pushed through in the first week of rehearsal to make sure that we hit everything. Nothing was too big of a surprise when we got to the space. We wanted to set them up for success. I’m really excited and we’re in a really good spot.

 

Michele: How do you manage the stress and help the students manage their stress?

 

Eric: The thing that we said on day one is that silence does not protect us. We really prioritize and value open and honest communication, even when it comes to staging, blocking, costumes, choreography, all of those things. The students know if they feel uncomfortable, if they feel unsafe, that they’re free to say that. You will always find a way to open up a conversation. Even if we can’t have that conversation right in the moment, we’re open to communication but specifically reflection and self-correction. All of those things are really important to us.

 

Throughout this week, we do opening rituals and closing rituals. Sometimes it’s just sharing something silly that happened that day or shouting someone else out that we saw do something good. Sometimes it’s just sharing what we have self-reflected on, things that we know we want to do better or differently. For me, book-ending the day in this way really makes this program so special. We always make space for that, and I think that is what’s been anchoring us through those long hours; that the kids know we are all still human, we all still have a voice, and making sure the themes of the show are reflected in how we act in rehearsal.

 

Michele: I love your quote about theater education. Eric “believes that access to high-quality and diverse musical theatre pre-professional education makes humanity smarter, stronger and more empathetic.” Would you talk to our readers a bit more about the importance of a quality theater education?

 

Eric: I think empathy sits squarely at the intersection of all of those things, being smart and being strong but being empathetic. I would say coming out of COVID, there was definitely a shift in how young people were treating each other simply because that behavior wasn’t modeled for them. They weren’t in the classroom; they were at camp; they weren’t at their friend’s house.

 

Theater is a lifelong skill, but it’s also a lifelong art form that will continue to give from as young as you could remember through adulthood. There’s the program, Theater for the Very Young that we studied in my undergraduate program. Theater inherently is an opportunity for us to self-reflect, see relationships, and see conversations modeled in front of us. It makes us reflect in our own way, so I think that’s a big thing.

 

It’s really important to me that we really hone in on those themes. The show is about being empathetic to all people, even if we aren’t friends with them and even if we don’t care for them, even if we don’t have a personal relationship with someone, everyone is still owed dignity and respect.

 

And then I think in terms of being strong. These young people have put together a full-blown, full-scale, full production of a Broadway musical in two weeks. They’re not in T-shirts and black pants doing a step-touch. They’re doing a full two-hour musical and have learned how to advocate for themselves, how to step in and use their voice and take up space, articulate their concerns when something is wrong and also push forward when things are hard. It’s a skill that performers get from it, but as an audience member, there are certainly moments in the theater where we have to lean into that discomfort when we see things reflected on stage that remind us of the parts of ourselves that maybe we’re not as proud of. I think that’s what “Mean Girls” does for many people. Not only do we resonate with Cady for falling into her trap. It’s very regrettable. I think we also can identify with Regina in some way. She stands in her power. She uses it because it’s fun and because that’s the world that she’s found. I think that we all have to learn from that and listen to those things leading to them that makes us stronger.

 

Michele: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to add or mention?

 

Eric: These characters really support the universality of these themes of relational aggression among young women and young people at large; accountability of those really important themes. They are lifelong conversations that we should always have.

 

We have an extremely diverse and thoughtful group of young people that are in a fully produced professional production. If you’re on the fence thinking, you know $25-$40 dollars is a lot or I’ve seen this show before, but you know you love the music or you’re slightly interested, I would urge you to come. It is a really special show, and it’s special to see it right now at this moment. I think the community is going to love, love, love what we’ve done with this show. So, if you’re on the fence, we would love to have you.

 

For information: drphillipscenter.org

Performances June 28, 29 7:30 p.m.

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

 

 

 

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Written by T. Michele Walker

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