By Megan Bowers, Staff Writer

Holy shit.

These words are actual lyrics in the song “Fight for Me,” but they also convey the genuine reaction to sophomore Rylan Hixson accidently being punched in the face during a choreographed stage fight.

Expressions of shock and surprise appear on the faces of everyone present as the smack sound echoes throughout the small classroom in the Center for Performing Arts building.

The most appalled look comes from the person on the other end of the punch, sophomore Marco Colant, who immediately begins apologizing profusely.

This incident took place during the first practice run-through of Stage Left’s fall musical, “Heathers.”

The satire, based off the 1980s movie of the same name, discusses what it’s like to be in high school and attempts to bring every stereotypical clique to life by over-dramatizing them.

“I always describe it as ‘Mean Girls’ with death,” director Brandon Fogel said.

The show tackles several challenging topics including mental illness, gun violence, suicide, homophobia and sexual assault.

Fogel, a junior, talked through each of the issues with the cast at the start of the process to ensure the ideas were still presented with seriousness, despite the comedic nature of the show, and to make sure they were comfortable with everything.

“We didn’t want them to be put off, or uncomfortable, or go back into that dark place through this material,” Fogel said. “We wanted to very much establish if you need a break for a second or if you need to walk away, that’s fine.”

“Heathers” was first performed off-Broadway in 2014 and has been captivating the attention of teenagers in the theatre world ever since, making the massive turnout for auditions unsurprising.

Assistant director Sarah Emery said the last Stage Left show had around 25 people audition for it.

This one had 85.

Callbacks took place after three days of auditions and lasted from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Per Stage Left tradition, the crew called everyone who was cast that night, at 1:30 in the morning.

Because callbacks were long and vocally straining, they were a good chance for each of the directors to get their first chance to shine.

According to Emery, vocal music director Emma Shibley made everyone feel comfortable and safe in the tiring environment.

“Even at callbacks she was so worried about the safety of everybody’s voices,” said Emery, a junior.

This level of comfort was continuously displayed as Shibley worked with the cast individually outside of rehearsal to ensure they had their part where they wanted it to be.

“That was when I really got into how can your voice highlight what the words are saying and how can your voice make the music make sense,” said Shibley, a music composition major.

Choreographer Emily Kapnick worked with the cast at callbacks and all throughout rehearsals. She taught them at an incredibly fast pace, but worked to maintain a positive environment.

“I can dance, but I can’t learn it quick,” said Hixson, who plays Ram Sweeney, the stereotypical jock. “She was always willing to work before rehearsals.”

Costumes and props started accumulating at the time of the first run-through. This included the iconic blazers of the Heathers and two real guns.

“Sarah [Emery] has done so much research to look into all those issues to see what it was like then and how we can portray that in an honest authentic way,” Fogel said.

Two weeks later, they finally were able to move to Wilks Theater for tech week. Set, sound, lights and the instrumental pit had to come together quickly at this point.

Music Director Kevin Kraus already had everyone in the pit together by the end of September. This helped make the transition from singing along to recordings to being accompanied by live instruments smoother.

The last-minute transition onto the stage is one of many differences between Stage Left shows and Theatre Department shows. The student-run performances also rehearse less frequently throughout the week and have a different air of community about them.

“We’re not lackadaisical, but we’re not so serious about ourselves,” said junior Jamie Ross, who plays Veronica Sawyer, the female lead. “I think it’s a warmer community, and we all love each other a lot.”

The show is modern and relevant to a wider audience at Miami than many shows that have been done before.

“I find too often at Miami there are just these groups of people excluding others,” Hixson said. “At the end of the day there is always something beautiful in everyone, and you just have to search for that and find it in each other and in yourself.”

Stage Left will be performing “Heathers” at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 17, 18 and 19 in Wilks Theater. Admission is free.

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