“Group 1: are you guys ready? One group at a time. OK, five, six, seven, eight, one, two, three, four.
The familiar piano melody picks up and the actors on stage move into position. They’ve been there for an hour but have been training for at least several weeks before that. Since the auditions in November, the cast endured continuous dress rehearsals until opening night on February 17.
“This is the story we were meant to write while we were out of sight, but no more.”
They begin their song-and-dance routine on the stage and on the rafter, holding fake newspapers emblazoned with “The Newsies Banner.” To an outsider, it may seem coordinated, professional and perfect. But it’s not quite.
“Five, six – five, six, group two. One, two, three, four, five, six and seven, eight.
Brittany Covert and Christian Pullings, director and assistant director of “Newsies”, respectively, sit in the center of the auditorium and speak into a microphone. Everything from the spacing between two lines to the way an actor throws his newspaper across the stage is fair game for scrutiny. While the end product will never be quite “perfect”, it will be as close as possible.
Covert, also general manager of the Muncie Civic Theatre, said she had been interested in “Newsies” since the original Disney film was released in 1992. What started as a crush on 17-year-old Christian Bale has brought to use the film to teach students yellow journalism at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Indiana, where she taught and directed plays. In 2020, the Civic Theater chose Covert to direct the musical for herself.
“The way it works here is there’s our art director — we have a pool of directors, and she kind of tries to match the right director with the right piece,” Covert said. “I love working with teenagers, and that’s how I was chosen to do ‘Newsies’.”
Covert’s love of theater stems from a love of storytelling both as a form of escapism and as a form of participation. She started acting in high school, where she also developed a passion for directing. After high school, she attended Ball State and majored in both directing and stage management and English.
Covert graduated from Ball State in 2006 and moved to Chicago before becoming an English teacher in Hamilton Heights. In 2016, she started working at the Civic Theater, where she performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Of Mice and Men”, “9 to 5” and “Matilda”, which was the last show the Civic Theater had. organized before COVID. -19 pandemic.
Auditions for “Newsies” began last November. Wanting to rediscover her love of musicals, Ball State junior theater creation major Natalie Meyer decided to audition. Meyer was previously a musical theater major at Ball State, but changed majors in the spring of 2020 to have more opportunities after graduation. She had appeared on “The Gift,” a virtual show hosted by the Department of Theater and Dance, in November 2020. She said she had not been on a “real” show that was not hosted by a school since high school. , which is part of why she auditioned for “Newsies.”
“I just missed it, and I wanted something that would be a fun experience, that wouldn’t take a lot of time…or a super stressful experience,” Meyer said. “I just wanted to find the love for it again.”
Meyer has been dancing since she was 2 years old, when her football coach jokingly told her parents that she would be better at cheerleading or dancing. Dancing has since become one of her talents, and when she auditioned for “Newsies,” she was able to skip the dance class part. After arriving at the theater, she filled out the paperwork to sign up for an audition. When it was her turn, she took the stage.
“I sang my song…then we were put in a holding room to warm up while they changed bands,” Meyer said. “I went to the call of the dance [where] we learned…one of the numbers on the show.
Meyer stayed to be called back and received the cast list a few days later, although the team said it would take at least a week. After being part of the dance crew, a group of cast members with unnamed roles who dance onstage with the main cast, Meyer and the rest of the crew met every Sunday until after the Ball State winter vacation. Throughout January, the team met twice a week and eventually several times a week with the rest of the cast.
Another cast member, Shyanne Mitchell, is a young theatrical creative like Meyer. Her love for acting began with improv comedy in college, a passion she nurtured through her involvement with the ABSO Improv Comedy troupe at Ball State.
Mitchell first starred in “Newsies” in 2019 at The Main Stage, Inc., in Mishawaka, Indiana, playing Medda Larkin. Last September, she starred in her first Civic Theater production, “I Can(‘t) Handle This,” directed by Tyler Robertson. Two months later, she auditioned for “Newsies” and landed the role of Josephino Jorgelino de la Guerra — or JoJo, for short.
“I actually didn’t want to be a journalist,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to be new to the dance team or Medda Larkin, since I’ve done that role before. I was just assigned that role. After my audition, Brittany asked me, ‘Do would you take a named newsie?’ and I was like ‘Yeah sure.’
Although Covert, Meyer and Mitchell are all working on the same musical, the thing that drew them to “Newsies” in the first place is unique.
For Mitchell, it was dance, as she attended the workshop and saw production as a way to develop her skills. Although her role as a reporter means she doesn’t dance as much as Meyer and the rest of the dance crew, she said it remains an important part of her performance.
Meyer, however, was drawn to the musical for its subject matter, particularly in relation to what she said was an increasingly divisive social climate.
“Especially in the climate we’re living in right now, being able to bring people together when they see a problem and know there’s a problem and just stop what you’re doing to come together to fight that problem, I think that it really is a beautiful and important story to get across,” Meyer said.
Covert has always been most fascinated by the story of Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the New York World who she believes is largely misrepresented in the musical.
The story of “Newsies”, loosely based on the Newsboys strike of 1899, begins with a choice made by Pulitzer at the height of the Spanish-American War to raise the price of a newsboy’s bundle of newspapers of 10 cents, which reduces their profits. Although this decision was made by many newspaper editors at the time, Pulitzer’s New York World was notable for not changing course after the war.
“He’s actually the opposite of how he’s portrayed here – he absolutely hated that he had to make that decision,” Covert said. “He not only changed his mind, apologized for it, but then became one of the biggest proponents of child labor laws of his time. And there’s a great story in there that I I would like us to be able to put room in our society to change our minds and room to be wrong about things.
As Covert speaks, she often twists in her chair to direct the rehearsal unfolding behind her. Pullings continues to lead the rehearsal from the center of the auditorium, but Covert, even as she talks about the importance of the villain with her back to the stage, seems acutely aware of her surroundings.
The organized chaos of repetition takes on another image when coupled with the plot of the show. “Newsies” is ultimately the story of a group of people coming together, determined to achieve a common goal. For Covert, the musical’s huge cast paints a similar picture.
“It’s more than 100 people who make this show possible, who unite daily to tell this story [of] the lucky group of street urchins coming together to take on something so huge,” Covert said. “It’s just one giant show…and I think it really represents who we are.”