Director Bradley Watts fell in love with the music for The Great American Trailer Park Musical first.
The song titles are corny – Make Like a Nail and Press On and My Love Has Been Flushed Down the Pipes, for instance – but the lyrics are great and, because styles range from country to hard rock to disco, they’re fun. Sometimes, even beautiful.
Then he read the script.
“There’s every crazy character,” he said. “There’s a stripper. There’s her redneck boyfriend that’s out chasing her because she left him. There’s the husband and wife, and the wife hasn’t left the house in 20 years. There’s a woman whose husband is in prison. There’s a girl who thinks she’s pregnant but she’s really not pregnant. There’s another girl who runs the trailer park, and her husband mysteriously died and is buried in the backyard,” he said.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical will be presented at 8 p.m. July 13-14, 20-21 and at 3 p.m. July 15 at Aiken Community Playhouse.
The play is about a stripper named Pippi who moves into Armadillo Acres trailer park in Starke, Fla. Housewife Jeannie Garstecki hasn’t left the house in two decades, much to the dismay of her husband, Norbert. He escapes to a strip club, where he bonds and eventually has an affair with Pippi, who is being chased by her magic marker-sniffing ex-boyfriend. The ensuing drama sucks in nearly every resident of the trailer park.
If you can think of a white trash stereotype, it’s probably in here.
“It’s definitely a show about what society – whether or not it’s true – views trailer trash as being,” Watts said. “It’s definitely one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen as well as one of the most fun shows to direct.”
He has wanted to direct the play for two years and finally got to begin work on it about five weeks ago. That’s not a lot of time to produce a musical. Watts said typically he will have nine to 12 weeks to put a musical together.
Luckily, this one requires a small cast, with only seven members. He quickly began putting together a cast that would help him achieve his vision.
“I wanted it to be a fun, over-the-top, cheesy show,” he said.
Auditions can be competitive, especially in Aiken where there’s enough talent to cast a show two to three times over, said Jamie Turner, who plays Jeannie.
She wanted to be in the show badly. Though there were only two roles that she could physically fit, she really wanted to play Jeannie.
“I went through some songs and strategically picked something I thought would be good for the character and set my sights,” she said. “With such a small cast, you have to be really focused on what you’re doing to set yourself apart from everybody else.”
Meanwhile, Watts is looking for the person who best fits the character.
Once the cast was in place, the choreographer got to work designing the dance routines. That’s the first step in producing a musical, because the hardest part of a musical is learning the music and the dance routines, Watts said.
In Trailer Park, Adam Shults does double duty – he is the choreographer and plays Duke, Pippi’s “likeably awful” ex-boyfriend.
This is the first production he has choreographed and said the experience has been challenging.
“Dancing is easy, but it’s a whole new ball game when you have to create it and then teach it,” he said.
Shults was a cheerleader in high school and a member of the dance team at USC Aiken. He said he was surprised when Watts asked him to choreograph, but he thought, “Why not?”
“I have no good reason not to try,” he said.
He said he listened to the music over and over and began to form dance moves in his head. Many of them he tried out at home in front of the mirror before trying with the cast.
“The first thing I do is try to eliminate anything I’ve seen before, because I want to try to copy as little as possible,” he said.
It’s tricky wearing both hats because, as of last week, he felt he had devoted so much time to choreography that he didn’t spend enough time studying his lines.
The cast has been rehearsing at least four nights a week to get ready for opening night July 13. But from time to time, they take a breather to relax, put away their characters and have a good time as friends. They have gone to see a movie and have lunch or dinner as a group. That’s important, Watts said, because if they feel connected they’ll work better together and help and encourage one another.
“They’ll pick up for each other,” he said.