This story is part of a series of articles previewing Thespian troupes and the shows they’ve been invited to present on the 2019 International Thespian Festival main stage.

BRING IT ON features the talents of nearly 50 students representing 22 troupes from across the state of Kansas. At the 2016 International Thespian Festival, Kansas’ All-State Cast and Crew presented the main stage production of James and the Giant Peach.

STORY

McKenna Shaw as Campbell in Kansas Thespians production of Bring It On.

McKenna Shaw as Campbell in Kansas Thespians production of Bring It On. Photo courtesy of Edward Shafer.

As Campbell Davis glides into her senior year, she is on the verge of getting everything she’s ever wanted, namely the chance to captain Truman High School’s ultra-competitive cheerleading squad and lead them to a championship trophy. That’s why her world is turned upside down when she’s redistricted to neighboring Jackson High, a hard-luck school with no cheerleaders at all.

In an effort to convince herself this lemon’s not actually a lemon, Campbell embraces her fresh start. After making a rocky first impression, she partners with Danielle, leader of Jackson’s fierce hip-hop dance crew, and they transform the dancers into cheerleaders worthy of the national spotlight. But in her attempt to triumph over the treachery of a former teammate, Campbell commits a betrayal of her own and must learn that some things, like friendship, are more important than winning.

BACKGROUND

Bring It On is based on the 2000 film of the same name, which starred Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union and inspired five sequels. The musical’s plot diverges from the film. It features a book by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) with music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and lyrics by Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody) and Miranda.

The stage adaptation premiered in 2011 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta before embarking on a six-month, 12-city North American tour. The production opened on Broadway in 2012, earning Tony nominations for best musical and best choreography.

KANSAS’ ALL-STATE PRODUCTION

Director Edward Shafer thinks Bring It On was the perfect choice for Kansas’ all-state show, the goal being to bring students from across the state together to reinforce the Educational Theatre Association’s core values: People Matter, Strive for Excellence, Work Together, and Be the Person You Want to Work With. “We focused on those values every day, and they reflect the same values Bring It On is all about,” he said.

Though competition is at the core of its plot, the show’s message makes it clear that the act of competing is more important than the result. “This cast is made up of individuals who are dynamite talents and leads at their respective schools,” Shafer said. “To see students put aside their egos and graciously accept the role that was given — that played right into the theme of Bring It On.”

Producing an all-state show requires offstage precision and discipline rivaling the complex choreography onstage. The entire production team participated in auditions in three cities: Wichita, Salina, and Olathe. Once cast and crew were chosen, GroupMe, website, and YouTube channels were established to communicate breakdowns for every scene, song, dance, and cheer. Choreography videos and vocal track recordings were distributed. Design ideas, props lists, costume measurements, sound cues, and more were collected over email.

Eight weeks after auditions, the team assembled for the first time for two weeks of rehearsal, working eight hours daily, Monday through Friday, to bring all of the show’s elements together. Two days were devoted entirely to learning the cheerleading routines, with a cheer boot camp led by professional coaches from the National Cheerleaders Association.

“Everything came together much quicker than I thought it would,” Shafer said. “We arrived in Wichita for the state Thespian festival a day early and ran through the show once before we opened the festival the next day. In many ways, the performance in Wichita was stronger than the performance over the summer. I think the added time helped the cast explore their characters more. It was as if the show had marinated in a nice pool of creativity and exploration, so when it came to life again, it had more depth and honesty.”

“Getting to know each other and building chemistry onstage was definitely the hardest part of the process,” said McKenna Shaw, who plays Campbell in the show. “But with the wrap-up of those performances, I am now blessed with a statewide family that I absolutely adore, and seeing them shine onstage fills me with so much warmth and excitement. I cannot wait to see them again for our day of rehearsal before we travel to ITF.”

While the show was highly memorable for many reasons, one in particular stands out to Shafer. In the show, the character La Cienega identifies as transgender. “In Wichita, one audience member was in tears after the show,” Shafer said. “She was a transgender student who said, ‘I got to see myself onstage. For the first time, I got to see me onstage.’ Bring It On is filled with eccentric characters that aren’t typically showcased in Broadway musicals. Theatre kids are often labeled as outcasts, so we identify with them right away. To see a room filled with thousands of theatre nerds just like us fall in love with these characters, relate to the story, and emit such emotion was the ultimate reward for all our hard work.”

Shaw felt a personal stake in the story. “The show’s themes deal with everything from bullying to racial bias, and not one of those is something I don’t hear about in my high school hallways at least once a day,” she said. “The fact that all the themes of the show are for teens and about teens is important. I’ve dealt with bullying in my high school and have turned to theatre as my escape. This puts an insane focus on the importance of the true people in your life and making sure you lean on them when you need it. That’s been a huge help to me.”

Shafer says the team is proud to be representing, not just themselves, but their entire state at this year’s International Thespian Festival. “We are honored to perform on the main stage,” Shafer said. “We all understand that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our Thespian troupes, and bigger than our individual schools and districts. To get to represent the entire state of Kansas is such a privilege, and none of us is taking it for granted.”

Shaw, who performed as Penelope Pennywise in Pittsburg High School’s ITF main stage production of Urinetown last year, echoes Shafer’s excitement. “Speaking from past experience, there is absolutely nothing like performing in front of thousands of like-minded people,” she said. “Everyone watching wants you to succeed and is dancing in their seat and cheering at the top of their lungs. It is something that cannot be conveyed in words. The whole crowd is filled with so much energy and love for the people onstage that you can’t be nervous or scared. It’s like performing in front of a huge crowd of your closest friends that you may not have even met yet.”

POST-SHOW DISCUSSION

  1. When she arrives at Jackson High, Campbell makes a negative first impression with erroneous assumptions about people there. What does Bring It On say about stereotypes common to high school settings?
  2. In Bring It On, La Cienega tells Bridget, “Love who you are and the world will adore you.” Why does Bridget have issues accepting herself? Do you agree with La Cienega’s advice?
  3. At the beginning of the story Campbell thinks she knows exactly what she wants and what’s important. How does her journey in Bring It On challenge her? In what ways does she change by the end of the story?
  4. Jackson High’s final cheerleading routine breaks several rules of the competition. Do you think the team should have changed its routine in order to win? Why or why not?
  5. How realistic do you think Bring It On is in its depiction of life in high school? Which of the show’s characters do you relate to most and why?

ACTIVITIES

  1. Bring It On is inspired by a 2000 movie, but its plot diverges in several important ways. Watch the original film and note the major differences, why you think the musical’s creators made these revisions, and how they impacted your enjoyment of the story.
  2. In the show, Campbell has to prove herself worthy of joining Jackson’s dance crew. Think of a time when you had to prove yourself to your teammates or collaborators and explain what you learned through that process.
  3. Imagine you’re the director of Bring It On and your production has a condensed rehearsal period with actors who’ve not worked together before. Describe three exercises you’d undertake with the cast to build trust and camaraderie quickly.

RESOURCES

Read
Los Angeles Times interview with members of Bring It On’s creative team
Interview with Bring It On composer Tom Kitt
Interview with composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda about Bring It On
New York Times story on cheerleaders in pop culture
Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the history of cheerleading

Listen
Bring It On original Broadway cast recording

Watch
Kansas Thespians Bring It On rehearsal for “Friday Night, Jackson”
Kansas Thespians Bring It On rehearsal for “Legendary”
Scene excerpts from the Broadway production
Bring It On movie (rated PG-13)

Learn more about the 2019 International Thespian Festival online.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Festival Preview: Peter and the Starcatcher

    Festival Preview: Peter and the Starcatcher

    Maryland Thespians journey to Neverland

    May 22, 2019

    Festival Preview: <em>Xanadu</em>

    Festival Preview: Xanadu

    Alabama Thespians embrace lighthearted fun on roller skates

    May 15, 2019

    Festival Preview: <em>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</em>

    Festival Preview: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

    Shakespeare goes steampunk in Pennsylvania production

    May 08, 2019