Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—A Tale from Backstage

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Rebecca Reese

Sitting backstage before our final performance, I thought back on all the work put into this production. Professor Heather Haithcock began the process of getting the rights to the show in the summer of 2017, nine months before the musical would be performed. In the following October, auditions were held, and roles were cast.

We had our first full cast meeting later in that month, where we listened to a recording of the whole show. This was the first time that I had seen such a mix of ages and majors; there were not just music majors. There were athletes, English majors, biology majors, education majors, human services majors, a math major, high school students, middle school students, and even one elementary school student. We were the largest group for a Southern Wesleyan University production ever. Professor Haithcock was so excited for this show, and there was no hiding it.

After Christmas break, rehearsals really started up: late nights and long weekends became a normal schedule for all of us. Choreography weekend meant being pushed to our limits physically and emotionally, but in the end we were so proud of the work that we had put in. Soon, all our sets were ready to be put up, and the stage was ready. The week before the show we had rehearsals every night, and that was when the sparks really began to fly. Having the stage set seemed to really bring the actors into their characters, and it was beautiful to watch. We would all stand at the end of the curtains and watch as Caroline Sweatt and Wesley Henson did the famous “Beauty and the Beast” dance while Lauren Schaupp sang. I teared up every time.

One of my favorite parts was doing everyone’s makeup. Genesis Perez, Michaela Swedberg, Ainsley Pruitt, Katie Cook, and I were in charge of makeup for the show. The funniest moment was when I had to do Patrick Hampton’s makeup the first time; I was trying to put the eyeliner on him, but every time I would start to get close to his eye he would instinctively lean his head further and further back. Once I did get a little bit of liner on him, his eyes started to water so much that it just slid right back off. Needless to say, eyeliner was not used on him again in order to keep him from permanent emotional scarring.

Since I played several different characters, the stairwell behind the stage became my makeup room. Between scenes I could be found there transforming myself from the Enchantress to a wolf or from a wolf to a townsperson. I think I went through a whole package of makeup wipes myself after only three shows. During one of my makeup changes, I would stop whatever I was doing in order to listen to Wesley do the final song of the first act. Everyone backstage would do the same thing, too. We all would cross our fingers during the last part of the song as it built up to the dramatic ending. Every single night Wesley knocked that song out of the park, and we would all go crazy backstage for him.

Every show was amazing; standing ovations for every performance. However, the last night felt different. Before we started, we had our last pre-show family meeting downstairs. It really hit us all that this would be our last run, especially for the eleven seniors. We gathered together, held hands, and prayed one last time. I remember giving Genesis Perez, a senior, a hug right after prayer, and she was already feeling the emotions of her final college musical performance.

As we got in places upstairs backstage, a lot of people decided to go around the side stages and give out final-show-hugs-and-“good lucks.” Tad Day, another senior, was one of those encouragers, and he, too, was feeling the final show emotions. I got in my place on the stage right wing and gave Wesley double thumbs up before we went out for our scene.

The rest of the show was a whirlwind: it flew by so quickly. I was in and out of the stairwell changing my face for different scenes, but I also got to spend some time in the wings watching bits and pieces of the last show. It was hard to believe that after all of our months of hard work it was all going to be over. The majority of us were able to keep our emotions in check during the show. However, as soon as the last note was sung, and everyone began running around to get in place for bows, the tears began to flow. I saw Genesis and Caroline hugging before we went out, and I was gone after that.

One very special moment during the final bows was when Zach Johnson, also a senior, and Tad Day came out for their bows. They have been best friends for years, and this was their last show together. Normally, they would come out, bow together, then bow individually, but this time after their individual bows they came together for a bear hug and melted everyone’s hearts.

Once everyone, stage crew and directors included, had come out and bowed, we sang the last refrain of “Beauty and the Beast” as a group one last time. I do not think that half of us were able to sing from the emotions that had overtaken us. After this we would have normally stepped off stage to greet friends and family that had come to see us, but this time we all stayed on the stage to soak up the last moments with this group of people. Hugs were shared. Tears were shed. Memories were made. What a show.