Long before the Plastics from “Mean Girls,” there was a different set of high school queen bees, all with the same name: Heather.
The dark comedy film “Heathers,” starring a barely post-“Beetlejuice” Winona Ryder as Veronica, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989. It became a cult classic – enough so that it spawned a stage show, “Heathers: The Musical,” in 2013.
The show will hit the boards at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center Sept. 29 – Oct. 17, thanks to the university’s partnership with Actor’s Express. What makes this partnership different from past ones with the likes of the Alliance Theater and the Georgia Ensemble Theater is that more than half the cast features Oglethorpe students.
“That’s the really great benefit of this [production],” said Matt Huff, director of Oglethorpe’s theater program and associate professor of theater. “It really puts the students front and center in a way that the other partnerships haven’t.”
The students also are getting an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise in terms of the type of show.
“It’s the biggest scale of production at all that we’ve ever attempted at Actor’s Express,” said Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Actor’s Express. “One of the things that is great about the partnership is that it allowed both the Express and Oglethorpe to take on something on a scale that we might not be able to take on independently.”
Ashley said that the musical “reframes and readapts” the movie for a modern era.
“You couldn’t make that movie today,” he said. “As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t make that movie today because the things that were funny because they were unfathomable are not funny anymore.”
Ashley said, “The satire is as sharp and the claws are just as pointed but it’s wrapped up in a sense of effervescent fun that I think makes some of the darker corners more accessible to a contemporary audience.”
Fortunately for the students, the cutthroat environment depicted in the musical does not extend to the rehearsal process.
“What is unique about this experience is that students and professionals are working alongside each other with no hierarchy,” Ashley said.
This peer-to-peer style makes the process more than enjoyable, according to Chloe “CC” Campbell, who plays Heather McNamara.
“It’s such a great experience,” said the Smyrna sophomore who is double majoring in theater and communications. “[Rehearsal] is definitely the part I look forward to most every day. Even on my bad days, this is literally a dream. I can’t believe I’m a part of it, and I get to be here every day. It’s amazing, and I love it so much.”
Caroline Gammage, a junior theater major from Cedartown who plays Martha Dunnstock, said this role gets her closer to her goal of being a professional actor. She said her “pinch me” moment happened early on in the process.
“We got emails asking for bios and headshots to go on the website,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God! I’m going to have my info on a professional acting website with my headshot!’”
“This is a great learning opportunity, and one of the benefits of coming to a smaller school like Oglethorpe,” Huff said. “At a larger B.F.A. program, [the students] wouldn’t have had these opportunities.”
In the words of Ryder’s Veronica, “How very.”