Spartans play big roles in New Spark’s Seussical Jr.


Raejah Bratcher

Kyle Nagel (11) plays Horton in New Spark Performing Arts’ Seussical Jr. The well-known saying, “The show must go on!” was embodied through the casts’ efforts to make this musical a success despite issues thrown their way from COVID.

With friends and family all gathered in their own cars, the audience is ready for the performance to begin. New Spark Performing Arts adapted to COVID regulations by hosting a drive-in showing of their performance Seussical Jr. on  Nov. 13 and 14 at Trinity United Methodist Church.

“The musical is basically Horton Hears a Who! with a little more Dr.Seuss magic sprinkled in,”  Kyle Nagel (11) said.

With all dialogue in the play expressed through song, there are many dance numbers in the play, all choreographed by Ryan Mesler (11). Having worked with this company before in the past, Mesler was in charge of being the stage manager as well. 

“I was choreographer for two previous shows that we’ve done, and I’ve been a lead counselor for two previous camps with New Spark,” Mesler said. “I just had a lot of fun doing it and would like to thank New Spark for giving me my first crew position in a musical, if that’s not too cheesy.”

New Spark Performing Arts is an official Tennessee Non-profit Organization which works with cast members from grades 5 to 11. Unlike previous New Spark shows, Seussical Jr. has been fully recorded for showing, with all actors wearing masks and social distancing.

“Our rehearsal policy included temperature checks at the door, washing hands upon arrival, social distancing, disinfecting all things touched in the bathroom everytime someone left, wearing masks and limited people at rehearsal at a time to no more than 16 total, including myself and my helpers,”  Raejah Bratcher, an artistic director and Spartan alumni, said. “We decided to require surgical masks since they didn’t muffle their mouths as much. The real task with filming was getting the cast to act with half their faces covered.”

The previous summer, New Spark followed similar precautions for Wonka Jr., so the recording process was not completely new to them.  Auditions were held through video submission, and rehearsals began three to four months before filming. The concept of holding a drive-in showing came from inspiration on different social media platforms and cast members attending a summer drive-in movie together.

“I honestly expected to be able to do this show live when we first had auditions,” Bratcher said. “We did video auditions back in May, and I was thinking that by the fall, we’d be able to rehearse and perform semi-normally. It wasn’t until about July that we decided to film and show it as a drive-in.”

Mesler held the responsibility of creating all dances for the musical and teaching them virtually. Luckily, Mesler was able to film his process of teaching the dances, so only minimal time was spent in person to perfect every little move. This kept social distancing in place while still getting all the necessary learning done.

“I am the choreographer and stage manager, so I set up all the filming dates, managed set design and created the dances for 5 of the numbers,” Mesler said. “It was very difficult to be honest. Honestly though, I think it was good for the kids as actors because they had to learn how to over express.”

Introduced to New Spark by Mesler, this was Nagel’s first musical with the company. He had the main role of Horton who goes on a journey to find trust and friendship with those who at first doubted him. With a welcoming crew, all choreography and costume preparation went swiftly, despite all the troubles from meeting safety precautions.

“If I had to pinpoint my favorite favorite thing about this production, it would probably be how the crew made it a fun place to be by talking to me and seeing how I’m doing, and it overall made the experience better,” Nagel said. “This happened every rehearsal, so it made me look forward to going every time.”

Bratcher graduated from WSHS in 2017, and she assumed the position of the artistic director of New Spark when the company was first established in August of 2019. The choice of Seussical Jr. for this year’s first official season show was close to her heart, as it is now the fifth time she has done this outgoing and lighthearted show.

“I definitely like working with WSHS kids since it’s really cool knowing they’re exactly where I was a few years ago,”  Bratcher said.