Teenage ‘Footloose’ Cast Members Say The Musical’s Themes — Freedom of Speech, Living an Authentic Life — Remain Relevant | theater arts

Teenagers practice a show

Left to right, front row, Lotus Cohen, Nate Davis and Teagan Demler practice a number during a rehearsal for the Berkshire Theater Group’s youth production of ‘Footloose’.

PITTSFIELD — A man and women are seated at a kitchen table; the room is as tense as the crash of the freight train passing in the dark. Their teenage daughter is alone in her room. She went upstairs, she came back late from who knows where, and they’re scared.

“Let’s end this conversation here.”


He’s a minister in a midwestern town where dancing is illegal. He got the bylaw passed years ago, and his daughter befriends the new kid who wants to hand it over. Now his wife is looking him in the eye, trying to call out the man she used to recognize.

And tonight, they’re all teenagers. The New Town Boy and his mother, the Reverend’s daughter and his friends, and the Reverend Shaw Moore and his wife – all are characters played by teenagers in the Berkshire Theater Group’s youth production of ‘Footloose’ at the Colonial Theater , April 8 – ten.

It’s known as a high-energy comedy with a soundtrack to 1980s hits, about a group of friends bringing new life and energy to a community, and it’s, according to Alex Boyd (Ren McCormack), Kate Goble (Ariel Moore) and Izzy Brown (Lyle). And, they say, the piece has new resonances for them in this unpredictable pandemic spring.

It feels relevant as a story of a community going through grief and loss, said director Kathy Jo Grover, and it’s energized by the energy all the cast bring with them.

“We couldn’t have children for so long, for any kind of work,” she said. “[When the pandemic began] we were in rehearsal and we had to stop.

As soon as security allowed it, the theater started talking about bringing them back. She and Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of BTG, started talking about a performance for older children who might be vaccinated. And through its comedy and friendship, for her, “Footloose” evokes the toll of the pandemic – “the loss of people, which is huge, and the loss of everything we do.”

When the pandemic hit, she said, she knew young people heading out into the world, who left the city to return home, often to small towns with different worldviews, much like Ren le done in the room.

Free Practice - Kate Goble

Kate Goble, who plays Ariel Moore in the Berkshire Theater Group’s youth production of ‘Footloose’, practices with her castmates during a recent rehearsal.

Ren’s father left without warning, Boyd said, sitting on the Colonial Theater stage and pondering his role. Ren’s mother struggles to find a job, and after unsettled months, they leave Chicago and move in with her sister and brother-in-law.

“…He’s angry,” Boyd said, “and his way of expressing it is through dance and the arts. In Chicago, he can go out to clubs.

Now Ren can’t do that, and he defies people who try to control him.

“He likes to stir up drama,” Boyd said. “But inside, he doesn’t. He doesn’t know how else to deal with the sadness of his father’s departure. He needs Ariel and Willard and Rusty, his friends. He relates to Ariel because they both lost someone – not in the same way, but still, he has to work through his grief.

“Alex and I talked about the differences and the similarities in the losses,” said Goble, who plays Ariel Moore, the minister’s daughter. “His father is gone and my brother is dead.”

In gambling, restriction comes from a shared loss. Five years earlier, four teenagers from Bomont fell from a bridge and died. They were coming back from a dance party, all drunk and stoned. And that grief shook the whole town.

“As you watch the show, you’re also watching a town where something horrible happened to him learning how to heal from trauma and right some wrongs,” said Izzy Brown, who plays Lyle, a friend of a teenager from Bomont with a difficult past.

“In a way, it expresses a lot of the issues in the world now,” Boyd said – “diversity, free speech and grief, in particular…Each character shows different stages of grief – go wild of anger, to close, to be silent, to rebel.

He thinks of the country during COVID, grappling with death, out of control, trapped in our homes for two years.

Goble watches the “Footloose” teenagers with their curfews and intense social pressure and thinks about sheltering in place and collectively grieving, and wanting the world to go back to how it was.

“It’s not just Lyle’s personality that can be linked to modern times,” Brown agreed. “That’s the whole story.”

All three trace themes that feel intensely current to them today, in adolescents who champion pleasure and expression, and the freedom to live the life that feels natural to them – and in the pressures exerted against them.

Goble sees his own character, Ariel, challenge his estranged father. She wants him to see her. She wants to dance, learn five languages, get on a train and leave town.

“I need adventure,” she says. “When Ariel rebels so much, she wants to feel something.”

Free practice

“Footloose” cast members Isabella Hall, Robin Lewis and Nate Davis rehearse a scene.

Her conflict reminds Goble of the collision of worldviews in her own life and at school, in conversations about pleasure and the body, including gender identity, and LGBTQ+ identities and experiences.

“Teachers don’t understand the way we do,” she said. “We are navigating from different perspectives.”

At certain points in the play, this navigation can lead to brutal confrontations, often when the men refuse to talk and become angry at the women who do. Grover finds a power and a sadness in the song “Learning to be Silent”, as the two mothers, Vi and Ethel, and Ariel all sing together.

“It’s a strong theme, the silence of women’s voices,” said Grover, speaking of the theme in general terms; in this room and in this country today, in women’s private lives and in public. “I hear Kamala [Harris] say “I speak”.

“The world we live in is trying to change,” she said, “and I think rightly so, and change is driven by kids… This group of 25 kids, their ability to accept is amazing for me. In a time when it can feel like everyone in the world is yelling at each other, they’re accepting, talking and learning.

The play contains a response to that silence, she and the actors said — as part of a human connection.

“People think they’re doing the right thing,” Goble said, “and if you fight, nothing gets done. If you talk to each other and see each other’s point of view more kindly, then the things will happen.

When she first heard Ren speak to the city council and speak the language of Reverend Moore, quoting Ecclesiastes – “there is a time to weep and a time to dance” – his argument moved her deeply.

“This inclusion of biblical text, but not biblical text that excludes”, she felt, she said – “A biblical text that includes everyone and argues that life should be beautiful is what that my family is trying to live with.”

Reverend Moore, played by Hayden Hoffman, is an intelligent, confrontational, and charismatic character. He walks quoting Walt Whitman – the poet of young men singing at night, drumbeats scattering congregations, “If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred” – a poet who can embody the freedom that the settlement tries to remove.

“[Rev. Moore] is also controlled and silenced by grief and responsibility,” Goble said.

“He’s working through his own pain and he’s a leader,” Boyd said. “It’s hard to express your own pain when you’re supposed to help others, especially when you’ve lost your own son, someone you raised and knew so well. And he had to keep it together for his community, because if the leader loses it, everyone else does.

And then he senses a change when Ren and Reverend Moore finally talk, face to face.

“It’s the first time you’ve seen [Rev. Moore] at a low point,” Boyd said. “They start with pure anger, screaming back and forth, then he tells Ren he wants to be alone – and Ren says he already is. And we see [Rev. Moore’s] the emotion changes, and we can see through the character that’s been building all the time.

About Anita Croft

Check Also

The Curtain Rises Again: Monacan High Troupe Stages First Post-Pandemic Musical

PHOTO BY ASH DANIEL Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? If you’ve watched …