"Any Dream Will Do"

(A Look at High-School Theatre in the '90s & a Review of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat")

By Leslie Turner

Curtain calls are fabulous, aren't they? The fanfare, the applause, the flood of emotion, the recognition ... the staging, the timing. Most people don't realize the curtain call takes just as much effort as any other scene in a production, only it's critical because the curtain call is the last thing the audience sees before going home.

The final curtain call of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," presented by New Albany-Floyd County School Corporation, was guaranteed to bring the audience back, begging for more. In fact, the entire production was filled with enough pageantry, special effects, lavish sets, showy dance numbers and costumes to carry us all well into the next season. The music was fast-paced and well produced, the acting delightfully overdone, each scene painstakingly executed without any visible mistakes, and the students were ... wait, did I say STUDENTS? Oh, right. High-school production. I keep forgetting. "Joseph" was a joint production between New Albany and Floyd Central High School co-directed by H. Glenn Edwards and David Longest. With over 30 years directing experience between them, they have broken the walls of rivalry between these two schools on four occasions, this time with a simple-turned-vaudevillian story right out of Genesis, Chapters 37-46 (read it ... it's great drama) about a boy named Joseph who dared to dream.

Watching the production, one had to wonder who PAID for it all. David Longest reported the original budget stood at $20,000, but soon soared to over $28,000. This is HIGH SCHOOL, remember. That's a lot of grease paint, fellas. Take it easy, Southern Indiana. Absolutely none of these funds come out of the taxpayer's pocket, much to your shame.

Fund-raising, then, becomes a big issue. One hundred and thirty students (cast and crew) can only sell so many candy bars. The director becomes a sort of "Music Man," responsible to the students, yes, but more so for making a profit. Shows are gauged by flash and popularity and (this is important, now) without the show's success, the entire drama program suffers. Revenues from the big musicals have to carry the straight productions, who lose money due to the consistent lack of community support.

Longest was hired partially because of his ability to produce big musicals, as was Edwards. Students are put through a demanding rehearsal schedule and 10 performances, but Longest is quick to point out (and rightly so) that drama schedules are not unlike basketball schedules.

Professionals are also brought in for set, lighting and costume design, orchestration and choreography. Everything possible is done to ensure the quality of the production is on the same level as professional theatre, and still, more funds must be raised.

In this respect, Longest and Edwards are kings. They brazenly used every proverbial "trick in the book" to ensure community support. The script was adapted to include a host of adorable young children, a celebrity guest star was brought out each night (Louisville sportscaster Fred Cowgill was the camel driver in the final production), and a major charity was brought in as a benefactor (over $7,200 was raised for the Louisville Chapter of The Dream Factory, whose purpose it is to fulfill the wishes of terminally ill children). Souvenirs such as buttons, sweatshirts, posters, photos and other paraphernalia were sold, concessions brought in around $1,500, even the props and parts of the set were auctioned off for about $2,000, and a date with the leading man went for $245!

Says Longest (about fund-raising), "It's frustrating and it's a drain, but you have to accept it. You're not going to be able to do the quality of shows ... Actor's Theatre does the same thing. They have to get national endowment."

The director's reward? Some accolades, but usually scrutiny, criticism and negative letters. Of course, they do it for the kids, as do the professionals who receive minimal reimbursement for their services.

And what of the students? What are they gaining other than a massive object lesson in consumerism? I spoke with Matthew Doty (son of Robert and Carolyn Doty of New Albany) who played the lead role of Joseph. Far from average, this young man "has it." At 6'2", handsomely youthful, great personality, great stage presence and singing voice, with proud parents and sisters who would occasionally like to throw him down a well, Matt Doty not only PLAYED the part of Joseph, he IS Joseph. His dreams are those of any young man in his shoes, his chances perhaps better than most. Just as Joseph's colored coat made him feel like "somebody," Matt wants his own moment in the sun, his own chance at fame and fortune on Broadway.

"Give me my colored coat, my many-colored coat," as Joseph sang. It's what we all want.

When asked what he has gained from his drama and high-school experience, he replied, "I don't really think I've learned anything, except how to deal with people ...  and negotiating skills ... and forgiveness." Well, that's pretty much what Joseph learned, and that's basically all there is, Matt. I'd say you've learned a lot.

So, cheers to David Longest and H. Glenn Edwards, cheers to Betty Weber Flock and Jan Musson, Philip Thomas, Daniel Walker, James Stanton and the other professionals who dedicated their time and talents, and to the dozen or so parents who lent a hand. And jeers to a community and a state which forces our schools to push profit above educational experience by their lack of support for anything but the greatest shows or the greatest athletes. Cheers to the students, who learned that great effort equals great results. Keep dreaming.

"The world and I, we are still waiting, still hesitating, any dream will do."

– Joseph