SOUTH SIOUX CITY | It takes all kinds to put on a high school play.
And with Natalie Ramirez at the helm, there is no “type” that’s left untouched. She called on vocalists, techies, class clowns, artists and athletes.
Standing inches shorter than a lot of the students, the 23-year-old director roamed the halls and classrooms of her old stomping grounds in search of potential auditioners for a production of Disney’s “High School Musical.” She drummed up nearly 50 cast members – many of them seniors at South Sioux City High School and newcomers to the stage.
“I’m dealing with a lot of new actors who have never done this before, never performed,” she said. “Some of them have grown up watching the movie and singing the songs. ‘High School Musical’ was such a big thing when they were younger.
“They decided to join the musical. They’re finding new talents they never knew they had. They’re learning to dance and sing and act, and they’re used to always kicking a ball around and doing sports.”
Based on the Emmy Award-winning TV movie, Disney’s “High School Musical” follows the story of two students, Troy and Gabriella, torn between cliques.
A chance meeting leads the basketball star and brainy new girl to break free from expectations and try out for the lead roles in their school’s play. The reigning musical diva and her twin brother scheme to schedule callbacks at the same time as Troy’s big game and Gabriella’s scholastic decathlon. Their schoolmates pull together to give the dynamic duo their time to shine.
“The overall message teaches you to not go with the status quo,” Ramirez said. “Don’t stay in your cliques. Don’t follow stereotypes. You don’t have to follow the crowd and do what the queen bee does. You can do your own thing.”
The cast includes real-life jocks and cheerleaders. She has a dozen basketball players. Only one has been in a musical before. And she has soccer players, boys who secretly like to dance behind closed doors.
They’re not the only ones stepping forward.
There’s a boy who likes to sing in Spanish, but when Ramirez coaxed him to sing in English, she discovered a new facet of his capabilities. Another boy likes to breakdance and post videos of it on YouTube. And yet another has a knack for beatboxing. Ramirez decided to add that into the show.
“I found a lot of hidden talent,” she said. “If you have something that you’re hiding, that you like to do in your free time, I want to take that out and put it on the stage. That’s a really beautiful thing about theater I learned growing up … you discover these new things.”
As a girl, Ramirez would watch TV and tell her mother she was going to be an actress. Her first role was in the “Wizard of Oz” when she was in eighth grade.
And while she had dreams of returning to the South Sioux City theater scene to direct a play, she never thought anyone would take Ron Foxhoven’s place. He still teaches math but stepped down as drama director.
“I owe it to him. He took a chance on me,” Ramirez said about her high school acting career. “When I went to college, I realized how much he put into it. He would direct. He would build the sets. He would take care of tickets, the programs. He would do lights and sound. He would do everything. I’m scrambling around trying to do everything. To see that this one man got this huge job done, those are huge shoes to fill. I was nervous coming into it. He put on some of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
“You've just got to take it one step at a time. You wonder if you can do this. You wonder if you’re cut out for the job.”
But then, her thoughts turn to the breakdancing, beatboxing, singing and dancing students who have been brave enough to step into roles they were wary of. Seeing them succeed and set an example for other students gives her strength.
“I love watching these kids have fun on stage,” she said. “As long as these kids have time for themselves, for them to have time to shine on stage, I know I did something right.”