Kamiak High School students (from left) Teddy Kouthong, Jack Burrows and Eddie Kouthong practice lines from “Spamalot”after school on Thursday in Mukilteo. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Kamiak High School students (from left) Teddy Kouthong, Jack Burrows and Eddie Kouthong practice lines from “Spamalot”after school on Thursday in Mukilteo. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Practice makes perfect parody for Kamiak’s ‘Spamalot’ cast

Viewings of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” help students get into character.

MUKILTEO — It’s not required viewing, but maybe it should be.

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is a cult classic that has retained its silly charm even after 43 years.

This May, Kamiak High School is staging Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” which is adapted from the “Holy Grail” film from 1975 that parodies the legend of King Arthur the only way the Pythonites know how: with zany British humor.

While not all of the 45 students cast in the musical comedy have seen “Holy Grail,” many of them have. After all, it’s a classic.

But rehearsing their parts on their own? That is definitely required.

“Sing along in the car, rock out in your living room,” director and drama teacher Bryan Sullivan instructed the cast at a recent rehearsal. “Do whatever you have to do to know your parts.”

Rehearsals for Kamiak’s spring musical started Feb. 5. Over the next several weeks, the actors will learn their singing parts, their choreography and their acting parts. (Not to mention British accents.) Right now the students are learning those three — song, dance and dialogue — in isolation. Then they’ll rehearse entire sections of the play, so they can figure out transitions from songs and into scenes, and vice versa.

“It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time, but you’ll get it,” choreographer Taryn Darr told the cast.

Workshops happen every school day with the show’s choreographer, director and music director. While some students are taught the “Fish Schlapping” dance on stage, others practice singing “Find Your Grail” or “Knights of the Round Table” in the choir room. They rehearse from 2 to 4 p.m. after school if the focus is singing and acting. Throw in dance rehearsals, though, and practice time is extended to 5 p.m.

The students have their scripts in hand and can ask for cues when they forget their lines. At least, for now. On March 21, the students will go paperless. By March 29, they will no longer receive cues. All the while, they’re working out the kinks of the show.

“We get the basics down first,” Sullivan said. “What will the general shape of your character, or of this scene be? Then upon revisiting those scenes, that’s were we refine it even further: Try saying that line a different way. Let’s make your reaction bigger so the audience can see it. Let’s make sure the comedic timing of this moment is perfect.

“The closer we get to opening night, the more refined and nuanced the performances and the show become.”

While the songs and dialogue are pretty much by the script, the choreography is original.

In her “Spamalot” choreography, Darr melded Broadway dance styles with the physical comedy in the “Holy Grail.” She makes it so students of all skill levels can look great dancing on stage.

“It’s an odd skill I possess, I suppose,” said Darr, who was in “Spamalot” when it was staged at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in 2014. “Making people who can’t dance look like they can.

“I love teaching a student how to use dance to continue telling the story,” Darr said. “That’s the best part about a musical. Someone feels an emotion so deeply, that they simply cannot speak about it to fully express themselves. They have to sing! They have to dance!”

Gavin McKeever, a junior, was cast as Patsy. After a month of rehearsals, he said his part is in great shape. He’s been focusing on his character’s mannerisms and stance. He has to maintain a slouch through the show. He doesn’t have many lines. Patsy’s job is to make a galloping sound by rhythmically knocking coconuts together for the knights as they absurdly pantomime riding horses.

“He’s just there with the knights, along for the ride,” Gavin said. “Because of this, I have to practice my reactions to other people’s lines and what my facial expression is while I’m listening.”

He keeps busy practicing the lines he does have, his singing part and a tap number. Gavin is having the most fun perfecting Patsy’s Cockney accent.

Gavin, 16, has been acting with Village Theatre’s Kidstage for 10 years. He was The White Knight in Kamiak’s “Alice In Wonderland” and Travis in “Footloose” last year, and played Jimmy in “Almost, Maine” in January. He also had the starring role of Hugh in “Blind Ambition,” which was featured in the high school’s one-act play festival this year.

“It really is a hilarious show,” he said. “We’ve had lots of laughs while learning the music and rehearsing the ridiculous dialogue. I can only imagine it getting even more fun as we get further into blocking and choreographing.”

Kayla Morrison, a sophomore, has the role of The Historian. That means she’s essentially the narrator of the show. It also means she has a lot to memorize.

“The first month of rehearsals is one of my favorite stages of the rehearsal process,” she said. “It’s when you get to experiment with your character and figure out who they are and how they speak, walk and act. Every character is up to interpretation.”

Kayla, 15, has been singing and acting since she was a student at Harbour Pointe Middle School. Last year, she was a member of the ensemble in “Footloose.” The singing might just be her favorite part.

“I’ve been having a blast figuring out my character and learning music with the cast,” she said. “The cast has begun to get to know one another and bond, which is such an amazing experience. There’s no better way to bond than singing in harmony.”

As it gets closer to May, the students will increase the number of scenes they perform in a single go. All the while, the directors will be giving them direction to stop, tweak an idea and run a scene all over again. Deliver the line this way, articulate the lyrics that way. Keep your knees high when you jog.

The directors expect that when they teach students a part, the next time they see that part it will be memorized. No time is spent during rehearsals on memorization. That’s another big requirement.

Sullivan may not have made it mandatory, but he has encouraged his actors to watch “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

“If I felt I could sacrifice a day of rehearsal to watching the film, I would,” he said, “but I feel that rehearsal time can be spent more productively in other ways. So I’ll leave it as a strong recommendation.”

Work parties to help make sets are scheduled in April. Dress rehearsals start in May.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046, sbruestle@heraldnet.com, @sarabruestle.

Mark your calendar

Monty Python’s “Spamalot” is showing at 7 p.m. May 4, 5, 11; 2 and 7 p.m. May 12 in Kamiak High School’s theater, 10801 Harbour Pointe Blvd., Mukilteo. A preview performance is 7 p.m. May 3. Tickets, $15 for adults or $10 for students and seniors, go on sale April 16. Call 425-366-5427 or go to www.kamiakarts.org for more information.

Spamalot, Act 2: Reharsals

This is the second of a multi-part Herald series about the making of a high school musical. Follow the story of Kamiak’s “Spamalot” from auditions to closing night in Sunday’s Good Life section and online at www.heraldnet.com. The next installment — on sets, lights and sound — will be published April 8.

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