It’s almost time for local students to take to the stage.
Three female leads will portray the formidable office secretaries Violet, Judy and Doralee in the musical comedy “9 to 5” Nov. 9-12 at the River Arts Center at Sauk Prairie High School.
Based on the 1980 office satire movie featuring actresses Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, “9 to 5” takes a look at friendship, revenge, sexism and woman’s equality in the workplace through the spirited and humorous views of three secretaries.
Sauk Prairie High School students Chani Danforth, Rachel Barsness and Kalyn Schmit play Violet, Judy and Doralee, respectively. Each said they draw from their mothers and co-director Meg Aspinwall for character perspective.
“My part is hard for me because Violet is a much more reserved character than I have played before,” Danforth said. “I am always thinking, ‘No, she’d be much more reserved.’”
For Barsness, playing the role of Judy has helped her grow in her journey to continue with music in her future.
“It’s made me a better performer,” Barsness said.
However, Schmit is still a bit anxious about playing a lead role — especially one as iconic as Parton made Doralee in the movie version.
“Whenever we are running lines my hands are shaking,” Schmit said. “I’ve always been in the ensemble. This is a whole different level for me as a performer.”
Matt Brennan, who is directing the musical, said students in grades nine through 12 tryout for the roles they want, but most everyone gets a role if they want to participate.
“This year we have 45 students in the cast and 20 in the crew and orchestra,” Brennan said. “We start working on it the first day of school.”
Students commit to rehearsing three days a week and on some weekends.
“We have a very strong overall cast,” Brennan said. “The choral aspect of the show is really impressive and being showcased. We have a string of female leads in our department and this is an opportunity to showcase the female lead.”
Brennan said the musical version of “9 to 5” is fairly new, having been released in 2009. Dolly Parton wrote the lyrics and music for the stage production.
Both Barsness and Danforth watched the movie version of the musical. Both said it helped them portray their characters better. This was key in helping them understand what it’s like to be discriminated against just for being a member of the opposite sex. In “9 to 5” each of the main characters experiences discrimination. Violet gets passed over for a promotion, Doralee is sexualized and Judy is forced to find work after her husband leaves her for a younger woman.
“Especially in politics today, it’s all talk about equal rights,” Danforth said. “My mom said women have come so far, but they still deal with it today. So even if we are dealing with it in a fictional way, we are calling attention to it. And it’s so much more appealing to view it through the eyes of entertainment instead of politics.”
“I’m one of five girls in my house so there are a lot of things in the show I can relate to,” Barsness said. “I used to work at a hardware store and so many times customers would assume I didn’t know what I was talking about because I’m not a man. The way the customers perceived me is one of the reasons why I ultimately left. My boss, she was a woman and got crapped on so much. I saw that first-hand.”
Schmit said her mom works in an office setting in human resources and has had her own experiences with sexism too.
Barsness said it is important to realize it happens to both men and women.
“Both genders face the same challenges but there are specific things men face that women don’t, and things women face that men don’t,” she said. “More and more guys are allowed to show emotion and women are allowed to feel powerful. Some of those stigmas are fading away.”
“In a small way this musical may contribute to talking about it,” Danforth said. “If nothing else, the audience will get a good laugh and have a chance to see something different.”
Brennan said audiences can expect a high level of performance from this cast.
“There is a lot of high energy dancing and story-telling,” Brennan said. “The message of the show is also important. If you want to stand out you have to make yourself known and shine.”