Rick Myers hopes guests at the Sioux City Community Theatre’s “The Awesome '80s Prom” will be taken back in time. A time when sweaters worn around the neck were considered a fashion statement and big hair was the only acceptable style. Ah, the '80s. What a party.
“It’s a nostalgic time,” said Myers, director of the upcoming play set to debut Friday (Sept. 18). “The '80s was a fun era. It’s a throwback time. A lot of people still remember their prom, so they can kind of relive their prom from back in that time period.”
As the title of the play suggests, “The Awesome '80s Prom” takes place in 1989 on the most important day of the year for students at Wanaget High -- every character is competing for a chance to be named Prom King and Queen. Characters in the play take inspiration from everyone’s favorite ‘80s movies. From the high-water-pants-wearing geek to the promiscuous cheerleader -- there’s no shortage of '80s movie character stereotypes in this play. We can thank the late movie maker John Hughes for his contribution.
In fact, many of the characters in “The Awesome '80s Prom” are based on Hughes’ movie characters. Heck, he even gets a character named after him: the prom’s DJ Johnny Hughes, played by Wayne Blum.
“He’s the one that drives the show and keeps the energy up and moves it along,” said Blum, who was once a DJ for about five years. “That’s the job of a DJ -- keep the party going. It definitely brought some flashbacks.”
Blum, who grew up in the '80s, said the play relies heavily on its archetypal characters -- the jock, the foreign exchange student, the dork, the badass. People who may not have grown up in the '80s would even find the play interesting, especially if those people have seen an abundance of '80s movies.
“Those were some of the greatest movies of that time,” said Blum. “Every generation has their classics. You’ll see this guy is from ‘The Breakfast Club’ or this girl is from ‘Pretty in Pink.’ It can bring back all those memories. Plus, the music alone brings back memories especially for people who grew up in that time frame.”
But the play’s characters may even resonate with those who didn’t grow up during that crazy time period. It certainly has for Lilly Sencenbaugh who plays Whitley Whitaker, the head cheerleader and the most popular kid at Wanaget High. In Sencenbaugh’s words, “she’s kind of a big deal.”
Playing the popular cheerleader didn’t come naturally for her, though. Sencenbaugh admits she was the kind of person “that cheerleaders made fun of in high school.”
“This is very opposite of my personality, but that’s kind of what makes it fun,” she said, noting the mean and nasty qualities in her character were adopted from her own experiences -- a sort of mini-revenge against those who teased her.
“When I think about how they behaved and how ridiculous I thought they looked, I try to make it even worse than how they were. And even when they were mean to me and junk, I would try to do that to the character that I relate to most in this show – the nerdy girl – and just be exactly like how they were.”
The '80s styles are alive and well in “The Awesome '80s Prom,” too. Audiences, Sencenbaugh said, can see how “ridiculous” people used to wear their hair.
“It’s big and over the top,” she said.
Much like the play that goes a step further in its immersion by including audiences in on the story. It “will be a different experience” for every show. Melissa Gulbronson, who plays Melissa Martin, a perfectionist and head of the prom committee, said interactivity adds a whole new dimension to the play.
“It adds a lot of improv to the show,” she said. “You could see this show seven times and you’d see a completely different show each time. It makes it so much different than any other show.”
Audiences decide which character will be award the prestigious titles of Prom King and Prom Queen. It could be the captain of the football team or the John Bender-esque bad boy, or perhaps the dork will overthrow the ditzy cheerleader? Either way, audiences can expect some type of '80s ending. We’re hoping for a strut across the football field ending in a fist pump freeze frame.