KOKOMO, Ind. — As a half dozen girls dance and twirl their way to the center of the Havens Auditorium stage, Garry Grice holds up his hand, stopping their progress to ask one of them to remove her baseball cap.
“Number one, we need to be able to see your face in the pictures, and number two, it’s bad luck to wear a hat onstage unless it’s part of your costume,” he says, before motioning to start again.
These are the kinds of tidbits that can only be taught by a theater insider like Garry Grice, a veteran performer, director, and producer, who also is an adjunct faculty member in Indiana University Kokomo’s music department. His wife, Wendy, is a lecturer in music, as well as a professional opera singer.
Together, the husband-and-wife team lead the campus’s current production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta The Gondoliers, which opens Thursday, April 6, through Sunday, April 9, at Havens Auditorium.
“They’re both incredibly knowledgeable about music and theater,” said cast member Brooke May, who plays the Duchess of Plaza-Toro. “They have a lot of credibility with students because of their background as professional performers, and they are really awesome people who genuinely care about all of us and want us to succeed, not just on stage, but in life.”
Garry Grice noted that while students are learning the process of putting on a successful show, they’re also gaining skills in public speaking and teamwork, while building confidence in themselves.
“They gain self-confidence learning these roles and performing them onstage, that will serve them well when they need to make a presentation in class or at work,” he said. “After spending 35 to 40 minutes singing and speaking lines in front of an audience, standing up for a 10-minute presentation doesn’t seem nearly as scary.”
They also learn how to be part of a successful team, he noted.
“They are depended on by their colleagues,” he said. “You have to be there, you have to know your part, you have to work in a collaborative fashion, and you have to be able to work with your directors, or coaches.”
Sophomore Tyler Fuller, cast as the Duke of Plaza-Toro, has performed in community and school theater since elementary school, and says he’s broadened his skills working with the Grices.
“I am grateful to go to a school that has such a great theater program,” he said. “They’ve helped me add more to my acting skills. The ability to do theater and just be me is amazing.”
The Gondoliers, which premiered in December 1889, is not like the traditional Broadway style shows the students have performed before — and that’s part of the reason Wendy and Gary selected it.
Wendy Grice noted that many cast members are talented vocalists, and they wanted to push them musically. All students benefit, even if they don’t want to be professional performers.
“More students tend to graduate when they are in extracurricular activities,” she said. “They feel accepted, and part of something bigger than themselves. It’s also a break from academics. You can step away from your books and have fun rehearsing. It’s a great stress reliever.”
That isn’t to say it’s all fun and games — there is hard work involved.
“This show is vocally challenging,” she said. “They can’t just sing it without thinking. They have to remember what they’re learning in their voice lessons, and apply it.”
Brooke agrees that the music is difficult, but she’s enjoyed the challenge.
“I have been in show choir, with popular music, and I sing in church. This is a different way of singing,” she said. “I feel like I’ve broadened my musical horizons, in both knowledge and performance.”
Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 6, Friday, April 7, and Saturday, April 8; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 9, in Havens Auditorium. Tickets, which will be sold at the door, are $10, or $5 for students with a student ID.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana