For the young performers of Spotlight Theater, their upcoming production of "High School Musical" is much more familiar territory than previous shows, with high school a much more familiar setting than Depression-era New York or the fictional country of Agrabah.
The show, based on the Disney Channel made-for-TV musical that exploded in popularity, spawning a sequel and a theatrically released follow-up, follows the story of an athlete and an academic who fall in love after trying out for the school's musical. Spotlight, a theater company based in Mount Airy, will host their production at the Carroll Arts Center this weekend.
Sophie Snider, 13, of Mount Airy Middle, said this production has been one of her favorites because of the relationship between it and her real life.
"It's the most relatable show I've ever done," Sophie said. "You can ask yourself if this happened in real life, what would your reaction be like?"
Director Jessica Shaffer said this production has been Spotlight Theater's most ambitious yet, involving multiple sets that include real desks, basketball hoops and more. She said the difficulty to get everything together is that they have only 36 hours to produce the entire musical, from rehearsals to the final opening night.
In addition to the short rehearsal times — just once a week from September until January — the group doesn't end up in their final show space until the week of the show, with just four performances on stage.
"We don't work with our sets; we don't work with our costumes; we don't work with anything until four days before the show," Shaffer said. "We rehearse in a karate studio in Mount Airy, so it's cool when we get to the stage."
Shaffer said "High School Musical" was a popular choice for the students because so many of them grew up with the film. She said they've tried to stay as close to the movie as possible.
"It can be difficult to get the choreography right," Shaffer said. "Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron had practiced for three months straight. These kids only rehearse for three hours a week."
The Spotlight Theater group consists of 70 actors split among two companies: a junior company for ages 4 to 8 and a senior company for ages 9 to 17.
Christian Ryder, 13, of Mount Airy Middle, auditioned for Spotlight for the first time this year. He said he was interested in the group because a lot of his friends were already acting with the organization.
"I want to be an actor, so I thought it would be a good idea," Christian said. "It's a lot more professional than other groups. Ms. Jessica helps you more individually."
When she first moved to the area from San Diego, Megan Jacobs, 15, of Walkersville High, said she was searching for a theater group that lived up to her experiences on the West Coast. She said Spotlight was the first one that truly felt right.
"In general, I'm an introverted person, but once I'm onstage, I can be who I want to be," Megan said. "I think that's pretty cool."
Throughout the show, different characters move in and out of focus, taking the attention of the audience. Evelyn Crook, 11, of Mount Airy Elementary, said that's one of the greatest joys of working with Spotlight.
"They're so inclusive," Evelyn said. "They say everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight and that's why they call it Spotlight. I really like how they give everyone a chance."
If you go
What: "High School Musical"
When: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday Jan. 14, and Sunday, Jan. 15. Junior showcase at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, and Sunday, Jan. 15
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster
Cost: Adults $15, children $12. Junior showcase tickets are $8.
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For more information: Call 301-252-0112