03322_000_008An Interview with Jack and Kit Regas
Both Jack and Kit Regas have held many varied positions in the Church, and they have both immensely enjoyed working with youth. They have been dance specialists and have served as leaders in the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women organizations, both on a stake and a ward basis. They have directed several roadshows as well as many special Church shows and dance festivals in Southern California. Recently Brother and Sister Regas were called to direct the Bicentennial Dance Festival for the Church in Southern California.
In his professional life, Jack has been the choreographer on the Glen Campbell TV series, the Lennon Sisters Show, the Andy Williams Show, the Roy Rogers Show, and the Dinah Shore Show. In the last few years he has gone into directing, working on many TV series and specials, including the Dinah Shore Show, the Perry Como specials, the John Byner Show, the Mac Davis Show, and many others.
New Era: Jack, when you are called to direct a roadshow, what is the first thing you look for?
Jack: The script.
New Era: How do you go about getting a good script? Do you write it?
Kit: We usually try to get two or three good ideas or different themes. Then we talk about them and see which we think will be best.
New Era: Where do you get specific ideas for a script?
Kit: I get them just riding along in my car. I might see umbrellas or some other items that make me think of a theme. For example, we once did a roadshow around numbers. But it could be anything. Our last show had teeth as its theme. Jack: We are always looking for ideas, for ideas from our own experiences. We have also found that if roadshows are about things, you can have more fun with them than if they are about people.
New Era: Why is that?
Jack: Because you can make characters or personalities out of things that the audience is familiar with. That’s the key. Kit: While you could give a 17-year-old a “George Washington” part to play, he cannot really portray a personality like that with confidence. In fact, he may lose the excitement and spontaneity of having fun with a role. If you give him a number like two, or six, or a tooth, he can do much better. No one knows how a tooth is supposed to act, so it’s easy to do practically anything with it. The actor has nothing to relate it to. Anything he does could be right.
New Era: Could you illustrate that concept with another idea or two?
Kit: Sure, you could have a show about Mother Nature, or candy bars, teeth, dentists, numbers, clocks, etc. But there are other ways to come up with specific ideas. One is to think of a moral first. Everything has to have a moral to it. The moral of our last roadshow was to take good care of your teeth. What could be identified with taking care of your teeth? Well, toothbrushes, cavities, dentists, toothpaste, just to name a few.
Jack: We have seen roadshows where all kinds of toys, ice creams, and watermelons, etc., have been used as themes.
New Era: Okay. So you have the basic idea. Do you then begin to write your dialogue?
Jack: We have very little dialogue in our roadshows. If you look at our scripts, they are mostly a parody of songs. Dialogue slows down the tempo of shows. If you have too much dialogue, you lose your audience and a lot of entertainment value.
Kit: Actually, we limit the dialogue to a few key spots. We use it mainly for emphasis, much like you’d use an exclamation point or a question mark when writing. The story should flow very rapidly through music and song.
New Era: Let’s talk about music then. What do you look for to begin?
Jack: First of all, we try to select songs with fast tempos but with different rhythms for variety. A slow number puts an audience to sleep. And it’s best if you can use a lot of short musical numbers so you can carry your story line through in song and dance.
Kit: You can sustain a certain pace with music. For one thing, it keeps a show moving. Second, music lends itself very well to production values. And that is what a roadshow is all about.
New Era: How do you go about finding the kinds of numbers and songs that will fit in with your theme?
Jack: Try to use as much high quality original music as you can. Of course, when that’s not possible, and you find ideal published music, use it. We both listen to a lot of records. Most people know the modern tunes; that’s really all you need. To begin with, it’s not a bad idea to look through the albums with show tunes you have at home. Broadway musicals, especially older ones, are a very good source for music, or some of the current songs young people listen to. We used two songs of this kind in our last show, and the players identified with them very well.
In using copyrighted music, follow these three guidelines: (1) do not broadcast your production over any public broadcasting system; (2) do not charge admission for the production; and (3) do not publish the production.
Jack: I’ve seen many roadshows ruined by trying to add two or three extra words toward the end of a well-known song. Another mistake is to speed up the singing words so as to fit more of them in.
Another thing: Don’t look for music that has to be sung solo. While a soloist is on stage, the other performers are wasting time. You can have a solo line or two in a certain song, but everyone, or at least large groups should sing all the songs. If you must have a person singing alone, a chorus should be singing along in the background. It keeps the stage alive.
Remember, by using different songs to tell your story, you can use more players. The more kids you can get involved in the story, the better. We had about 50 kids in our last show. One year we had nearly 80.
By using up-tempo, short songs you can keep the pace of the roadshow moving. If you’ll notice, you seldom see a production number on TV that runs more than two or three minutes. To keep an audience on its toes, snappy timing and quick movement are necessary. A roadshow particularly should roll right along. If you do ten short, fast numbers with a lot of variety, you are bound to have good audience reaction.
New Era: How do you train young people to sing out strongly in front of a large audience? Isn’t that quite difficult?
Kit: If you want to have a winning roadshow, you have to learn to sing out. We get into this early in our rehearsals. The key is to teach the players to sing much louder than they think is necessary. You’ll just have to insist on that until you get what you want.
New Era: Have you ever used a sound track for background music?
Kit: I don’t think roadshow rules allow that. The purpose of the roadshow is to teach young people to sing and dance and give them opportunities to participate. You involve more people when you use piano, drums, or whatever other instruments you can get. Involve as many youth using as much of their talents as possible.
New Era: Jack, how do you incorporate dancing into a roadshow?
Jack: Well, there should never be a dull moment on stage. There should be movement all the time. Dance is movement. But with dance, you’ll have to plan ahead, because there are boys of a certain age who are reluctant to sing and dance and participate. So you need an up-tempo, march-type number that can be really fun for them, but not so hard they become discouraged. Anyone can march. A march is just working out patterns and formations. Many of our young people start off by saying, “I can’t dance. I’m not going to dance.” But everyone can be a marcher. Most wards have someone who is associated with drill teams. They can help you with such a group.
New Era: For someone who has not worked with dance or choreography, how should they start?
Jack: There are many dance manuals available now. Even the dance festival booklets have steps. But look, dancing is just changing patterns and formations. It’s also a device for keeping the participants in straight lines all the time when they are on stage and when they walk on and off. Actually, we try to keep dances in three categories: a “march,” a “semi-easy,” and “real dancing.” You will need to go through your ward list and find the young people who like to dance. These are the people you’d use in the harder dance numbers.
New Era: Aren’t most of those girls?
Kit: Not always. One year we found a little boy in the march number who really danced well. He was so good, in fact, that we put him into one of the real dance numbers. Through the years we have used the youngest people as marchers, and now they are the ones who handle the real dances well.
New Era: Can you learn anything from watching a TV show?
Jack: Yes, TV, movies, and drill teams are all good places to learn dance. But there usually is someone in every ward who has had training who might be able to help train those who will dance in the show.
New Era: How do you personally teach someone to dance?
Jack: First I teach the song and the new lyrics. Young performers should know what they are singing before they get up to dance, because association is half of dancing. So once we have learned the music and the lyrics, we then simply add the feet to the song.
New Era: Jack, do you believe in overflowing the stage with dancers, even to the point of going into the audience?
Jack: Oh, sure! I love that, particularly for the finale. It makes a show very effective. But you need to know the buildings you’ll be performing in, how the audience will be set up, available exits, etc.
Kit: You can overflow a stage by breaking the show up in various numbers so that it won’t look messy or confused. We’ve seen a great many roadshows where one group will do a number then sit down on the stage while another group comes on. By the time the third group appears in the lights, there are so many people on stage you don’t know what they are doing or what they are singing about. Try to arrange it so that various groups come on and go off simultaneously, but sing backstage to give volume and continuity. Another thing you can do is to alternate every other group with the same people, but in new costumes. This works particularly well for wards that have a small number of people.
New Era: How do you design costumes that fit a specific theme?
Kit: Because of the budget, you must be careful to design costumes you can make inexpensively. Maybe that is why we feel that using things or objects as a theme is better than using people.
Our basics are usually cardboard and papier-mâché. You can work wonders with cardboard boxes. For example, it is easy to make a candy bar, a clock, a tube of toothpaste, or what have you, out of a cardboard box. After a bright paint job, we put a lot of glitter on the costumes. While we don’t put a lot of money into material, we do spend some on glitter and sequins. We even use sequins with make-up on eyebrows and cheeks, applied with eyelash adhesive. That’s what people are going to see from the audience.
Another item to use for costumes are old sheets that can be donated by people in the ward. They can be dyed, and glitter and sequins are easily glued or sewed on. They, too, can look very flashy.
New Era: In your shows the players are made up much more extensively than in any of the other roadshows I’ve been to. Why is that?
Kit: Faces are vital in the overall color scheme of a show. So always use bright colors. Sometimes roadshow directors use purple and blues, but those colors are not theatrical. We always favor loud, bright, even fluorescent pinks, greens, oranges, reds, and electric blues. They really show up once you’re on stage.
New Era: How do you handle your rehearsals ?
Jack: I am a real stickler with attendance at rehearsals. We believe we should be teaching our young people discipline, character, and leadership. So when rehearsals are called at a specific time and place, that’s where the participants are to be, and our attendance rules are enforced! It is an injustice to those who come all the time if we allow others to come only when they feel like it.
Our shows are very professional looking, but you can’t blame that on the director or the writer. It is the young people on the stage who are performing and being judged. The point is to have them very extensively trained by the time they get on stage to perform. You can only do that through organized rehearsals. Kit: The reason we do a roadshow in the first place is to provide an enjoyable and learning experience for our young people. Almost everything we do in the Church has to do with teaching and learning. Isn’t it an injustice to our youth to let them do a show with shallow preparation and little effort? Naturally, we want every young person in a ward to join the roadshow, but if a person does not care how it’s going to turn out, or if anybody comes to rehearsals only when it pleases him, how can you have a good experience?
Jack and I have always had good turnouts because we are firm with our rules. Better yet, it has been our experience that the hundreds of young people we have worked with in the Church look for and respect that kind of attitude.
Conversely, how unfair it is to have our youth come to rehearsals, only to find that the director is unprepared for them. We have been to rehearsals in some wards where people sit around for hours waiting for the director to start them off. So whoever is chosen to be the roadshow director should be so well prepared that no one wastes time at rehearsals. Jack: Another “no no” during rehearsals is to give personal instruction to one dancer, for example leaving 12 to 15 kids with nothing to do. If there are a few dancers who have difficulty learning their steps, you can spend individual time with them after rehearsal is over. Let everyone keep up as best they can and announce that you will stay after rehearsal to help with individual problems. Even professionally this is common practice.
And there’s another trick to remember about directing: If you have 50 performers around at every rehearsal, you will lose your mind. And they will soon lose their interest. You should write your show in separate numbers with 8 to 12 people in each segment. Then you can rehearse one group at a time. It is easier on the participants; they don’t have to be at rehearsals four days a week. You do, but they don’t. They may only have to rehearse once a week.
New Era: How many times do you rehearse all the participants together?
Kit: Just during the last two or three weeks. Four or five times should be all that’s necessary. Everyone should be so well rehearsed in their own group that all they need is to polish their entry steps, cues, and timing.
Another idea: To young people who are working on a stage for the first time, pencil and paper will do wonders. Just tear up little pieces of paper (I always use an “x” for the boys and an “o” for the girls) that you can move around on a table. You can show the youth what they need to do this way, and you can say, “This is group A, and group B will come in here,” etc.
New Era: How do you handle sets and staging?
Jack: The stake leadership will usually give you dimensions of the various stages you will be playing on. But to make sure, you might want to measure the dimensions you will need to work with at the various buildings. We have seen shows where sets didn’t fit the stage. It is tragic to have rehearsed a show for three or four months only to have troubles on the night of the performance that could easily have been avoided.
Sets also have to fall within your budget. We usually build ours with cardboard. Simply construct frames out of one-by-two inch boards and staple cardboard on. Add paint, design, and a lot of glitter. The design should be tied in with the theme, of course.
Try to have a situation where you can do a set change. Usually there are boys in every ward who do not want to be part of the performance. They are more than willing to be stagehands, however, and can assist with a set change.
Building flaps into your set can also give you a rapid change. For instance, the show we did on teeth had a large set with a mouth painted on it. Right in the middle of the show the mouth opened up and all the teeth danced out. In another show we had numbers changing from Arabic to Roman. It gives a completely different stage and adds a great deal to the performance.
New Era: What about lighting and spotlights?
Kit: We always plan for the lowest possible lighting conditions that any of the ward buildings have available. Usually we try to have a bright stage, and while we don’t go for mood lighting, we sometimes use a blackout situation or a black light for special effects. This gives a big boost to the special-effect category of the judging.
New Era: Have you ever used special effects?
Jack: We have seen them used effectively, and we have used them ourselves. You can have people appear in a puff of smoke, for example. The point is to do whatever the show calls for.
New Era: Are spotlights necessary?
Jack: We usually use one in each ward, for the center stage. Spots are of secondary importance to us because our shows are usually bright, upbeat shows. We just turn on all blue, green, and red stage lights and go. Again, you should use anything you can incorporate to make your show as interesting as possible.
New Era: What are some common mistakes that many roadshows make?
Kit: Many shows labor too long on one number—pacing is very important. Overcrowding the stage is another mistake. Usually there is too much dialogue. Music is much more entertaining. Use it to give the message. Shows with a lot of dialogue aren’t usually winners, but you will win if you have an entertaining show.
New Era: How do you select your singers, actors, dancers, etc.?
Kit: For leads, for dialogue, and for important parts, try to pick the most outgoing, dependable and capable young people you have, naturally. For one thing, I always listen for resonance when our young men are giving talks or just talking with friends. Then I approach certain people to try out for speaking lines, but I try to have tryouts as open and welcoming as I can. Whatever you do, pick the ones who are not afraid to speak out.
You should also give everyone an opportunity to participate. Someone came to me once and said that he thought it inadvisable to use a certain girl in a dance festival because she was overweight, homely, and lacked coordination. But that girl was one of the most enthusiastic young girls in the show, and she desperately needed to participate in the festival. Needless to say, we left her in. After the festival she came up to talk to me. With tears in her eyes she said, “I just wanted to thank you and let you know how special it was for me to be in that dance festival. It has been the greatest experience in my whole life.” Enough said. Jack: When we begin a roadshow, we call every single youth in the ward and ask him to participate, even if it is just being a stand-in or to work backstage—every part is important. We have seen scores of young people reactivated through roadshows, and we have encouraged nonmembers to participate also. Numerous baptisms have resulted because many of our members brought friends to join the shows we have been involved with. And that’s what it is all about, isn’t it?