‘Cheerleaders vs. Aliens’ does flips with its roles for girls
Egyptian Theatre YouTheatre will present the world premiere of “Cheerleaders vs. Aliens,” by award-winning playwright Rachel Bublitz, at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 10-12, and at 2 p.m. on May 12, at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Tickets range from $11 to $16. They can be purchased by visiting www.parkcityshows.com.
There’s more to “Cheerleaders Vs. Aliens” than a team of cartwheeling girls kicking extraterrestrial invader rears.
The play, produced by local youth drama organization YouTheatre and written by playwright Rachel Bublitz, will open Thursday for a three-night run at the Egyptian Theatre. It’s one of the first scripts that was written with girls in mind, said YouTheatre Director Jamie Wilcox.
“Rachel and I met for coffee and we talked about how in all levels of theater there are almost always more female participants than males, and an abundance of great parts in any production are for males,” Wilcox said. “So the chance of getting a good female part is small because there were so many females who would audition, so the competition was higher.”
Bublitz told Wilcox she wanted to help remedy role inequality.
“She told me that one of her goals for the coming year was to write six full-length plays, and that one was going to be a play she wished existed when she was in high school,” Wilcox said.
“When I decided to write a play designed to be produced at high schools I thought back to my days in a high school drama department,” Bublitz said in an artistic statement. “What did high school Rachel want out of a play? The one major thing glared back at me in pulsing neon lights: more parts for ladies.”
In addition, the playwright also wanted to create an assortment of roles that defied the kind that are are typically available for girls in theater.
“I wanted every single one of them to be smart,” she said. “I wanted my characters to have agency, I wanted my characters to be funny, to be caring, to be tough, and to be resourceful. I did not want to include ‘catfights’ or any storylines where girls fought over some dude.”
The result was “Cheerleaders Vs. Aliens,” which features an abundance of female characters who all get equal time in the spotlight.
“Plus the cheerleaders all have something about them that is unique and different from their cohorts and they get to use those gifts in creative ways to fight the aliens,” Wilcox said.
The story is about how the Greenville High School cheerleading squad uses rhymes, cartwheels, glitter and lots of tin foil to thwart an alien invasion, Wilcox said.
“All the characters, including the male roles, are named after female comedians that Rachel loves,” she said. “There is even a football player is named Tig, after Tig Notaro, and another character named River, after Joan Rivers.”
In addition, the aliens are named after stars in outer space.
“These names are not gender specific, so the roles can be played by either female or male (actors),” Wilcox said.
Three Park City girls — Amanda Rossi, Gemma Feltovich and Katherine Ward — are excited to be part of the play.
Rossi, 13, an eighth grader at Treasure Mountain Junior High, portrays Samantha, named after Samantha Bee.
Rossi has performed in previous YouTheatre productions such as “The Lion King” and “Elf Jr.”
“I have not really been in a play or musical that has had a lead role as a girl,” Rossi said. “So it’s nice to be in a play where the girls aren’t just supporting the males.”
Rossi read the script and knew she wanted to be Samantha.
“She always doubts what the main characters are doing, but in the end, she realizes that her real friends are the ones who have helped her all along,” Rossi said. “She acts like being mean and being pretty is the only thing she wants to do. But she is also strong and knows she can be whatever she wants to be at anytime she wants to be.”
Rossi enjoyed working with the play’s director, Alicia Washington, in developing the character.
“When I first started rehearsing, I really didn’t know what I wanted the character to become, and after working with Alicia, I realized that Samantha was the kind of girl that really goes for what she believes in, and that I needed to project and get that out there.”
In developing the character, Rossi found some similarities between her and Samantha.
“She’s always doubting, and in my own life, when my friends work on big projects, I find myself doubting and saying, ‘No, that’s wrong,’” Rossi said. “And then after a while I realize my friends were right.”
Thirteen-year-old Ward, who is an eighth grader at Weilenmann School of Discovery, said her character, Margaret (named after Margaret Cho) is peppy, happy, and loves sparkles and glitter.
“This relates to me because I’m a person who tries to be happy all the time,” Ward said
Ward liked Margaret so much that she went into auditions with the role in mind.
“I created my own backstory for her and decided what I wanted her to like,” she said. “I tried to find more similarities with the role and myself, and that helped me connect and play her easier.”
In the past few years, Ward has appeared in the YouTheatre productions of “Junie B. Jones, the Musical,” “Emma the Musical” and “Elf Jr.,” which served as stepping stones for the role of Margaret.
“Those shows have helped me get used to the feel of YouTheatre,” she said. “I have also gotten to know the other people in the productions. And that has helped all of us pick up on each other’s vibes. And that makes it easier for us to act together.”
Ward is happy that she gets to play a girl rather than a boy in “Cheerleaders Vs. Aliens.”
“Many of us girls have had to play guys in the past, so it’s nice for us not to have act like we’re another gender,” she said. “It’s easier for us to connect with our characters, even on a spiritual level.”
Gemma Feltovich, a 15-year-old ninth grader at Treasure Mountain Junior High, plays female football player Mindy, named after Mindy Kaling.
Unlike Rossi and Ward, Feltovich didn’t have an character in mind when she auditioned.
“I usually go into audition without thinking I’m going to try for one specific character, because I feel that limits my options,” she said.
Feltovich was surprised when she was cast as Mindy, but delighted to portray a football player.
“Mindy’s personality is fun to play because it’s so different than mine,” the actress said. “She is shy, but also a jock. And, just to let you know, I cannot play sports at all. So it’s lucky that I don’t have to really do anything physical except catch a football and spike it at the beginning of the play.”
Feltovich first played Mindy as a stereotypical athlete, but changed her approach after working with Washington.
“Alicia, who is an amazing director, stepped in and said my character has a lot of potential, because she starts the play on the outside the cheerleaders’ circle, and then transitions into becoming one of the people in the cheerleaders’ trust.”
Feltovich enjoys working on the play because she said it breaks boundaries.
“In many plays, you have four female roles — the lover, the best friends, the mother and the comedic old lady, who are acting to support a male character,” she said. “So it’s great to see all of these characters who are not dependent on a male character in this play.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bublitz had won an Emmy.
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