By: Caroline Smyth
Struthers Library Theater once again held a brilliant show this winter following the annual Warren Christmas Walk on December 3. Eric Morelli, the producer, and Karen Austin, the director, created the original show, titled the SLT Academy ‘80s Holiday Special.
Overall, the show was an enormous success, and, seeing as it was Austin’s first show being the director, the show turned out radical, and the cast felt extremely lucky to have her. During fair week this summer, the theater had a camp for some young performers, with opportunities to learn more about the behind the scenes of each show. Austin was also there looking over the camp, and even joining in on some of the fun karaoke that the students were singing. It was during this camp that the concept for the show was developed.
The Squire interviewed Eric Morelli, asking him all about his opinion on the show and the hard work put into it. He described the workshop process and the students that took part in the summer camp stating, “During the scriptwriting section of the camp, students worked on character development using a 1980’s mall at Christmas time as the setting.” After further explanation, he shared that getting to know the students helped in casting the show by sharing, “Having worked with the SLT Academy for several years and getting to know the kids as individuals, I have a pretty good idea of what will suit who.” Morelli did exactly that, making the outcome of the cast a perfect fit.
As the planning of the ’80s Holiday Special continued, so did the fun. Leaving many details up to the participants, Morelli went on to write the script, bringing all the characters together. When asked about the behind the scenes of each character he replied, “Once each initial character had been created independently by our students, we just threw them together in the mall and naturally found their counterparts.” Morelli continued, “The characters drove the story, rather than the other way round. Connecting characters with opposite world views magnified their unique qualities.”
Magnify their qualities, it did! Not only was each character amazing on their own, but the characters worked well together, each being a piece of the puzzle. When asked about his favorite character in the show, the producer replied, “I have a soft spot for Guard Greg, who also sings my favorite song from the show ‘In Security’ about his loneliness. Poor Greg finds his way in the end, though.” Guard Greg is one of the characters Morelli himself added to the show, and his unforgettable song was also written by Morelli.
“In Security” was just one of several songs Morelli wrote for the production, creating showstoppers every time. Two of the songs were sung by the same character, a spunky and optimistic singer named Katie. The brilliant producer said that this character was the role he would most want to play, when The Squire asked him. “I would love to take a swing at playing Katie (the up-beat mall musician); sadly, the window for playing a teenage girl has most definitely closed for me.” As you can see, Morelli’s sense of humor really shines through, just as it did in his script, making the show very humorous.
This character was played by an Eisenhower High School student and fellow Squire staff member, Alyssa Wismar, and her performance was spot on. As Morelli said, “…parts were certainly written with specific students in mind.” Wismar was one of these “pre-casted” roles, and no one could have played the part better.
When asked about some of the challenges faced throughout the production of the show, Morelli described a unique dilemma, “The most difficult part of preparing the ’80s Holiday Special was committing to a final script. Students kept bringing great ideas to the table well into rehearsals, but eventually, we had to say, ‘Ok, the script is final, let’s focus on performing what we have as best we can.’” Morelli and Austin made a wonderful team whilst doing this, being sure to make everyone happy, feel like there was a safe space to let loose, and truly act.
In the end, the producer shared how happy he was with the performance, “Words can’t express how proud I am of this show. What is most rewarding is knowing that I am not alone in that. Each student, particularly our Summer Camp kids, owns this story and everything it has become. It makes me excited to begin the process all over again!”
Community members looking forward to future productions and supporting the theater and performers are what make the real magic of the theater come to life. Karen Austin and Eric Morelli created an amazing show, and, with some fun along the way, the theater lit up for the ‘80s Holiday Special.