New Janesville Craig teacher finds his groove in 'Footloose'

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

JANESVILLE—“That city kid? I wouldn't let him kiss my a—,” said Nathan Schneider, repeating his line during a rehearsal of Craig High School's upcoming musical, “Footloose.”

Director Adam Miller stopped the scene. “Switch that to 'butt,'” he said.

Schneider, in his role as the unpleasant high school student Chuck Cranston, repeated the line with “butt,” in a tone that elicited some giggles from the cast.

Miller liked the response and encouraged Schneider to go with it.

Such is the life of a high school musical director, and Miller seems to have a firm grasp of his role, even though this is his first full-time teaching job.

Among Miller's new duties is producing the annual musical, which opens Friday, Nov. 1.

Miller, a La Crosse native and UW-La Crosse graduate, replaces Craig choral teacher Bob Schrank, who retired after a lengthy career full of well-regarded musical productions.

Miller, with English teacher Lindsay Swanson as stage manager, is taking the reins from a well-oiled production team led by Schrank.

A recent rehearsal seemed well managed, with students following directions and nary a disruption.

The show's appealing music also sounded good. Miller had the 41-member cast harmonizing and projecting well.

“He definitely had big shoes to fill, and I think he's doing a good job of giving us all he can,” said senior Ross Sroda.

Sroda plays Ren, a troubled Chicago boy who moves to the country and finds a community where dancing is banned.

Sroda said Miller knows his music and has quite a vocal range. He even can sing the soprano parts.

A choreographer was hired to create the dances and rehearse the students, but then they were on their own. Sroda asked permission to hold a student-run dance rehearsal in the mornings.

“It's my senior year, so I want the best show we can have,” Sroda said.

Craig's cast and crew seem much more harmonious than the sometimes dysfunctional kids in the fictional town they are portraying.

Emily Saliby, who plays Ren's romantic interest, Ariel, said “Footloose” story is one the students can relate to, as it's about the conflicts that can come with the transition from child to adult.

“I'd assume all girls go through that stage, where they figure out who they are and who to trust in their lives,” Saliby said.

“Teenagers tend to rebel against their parents, and sometimes you need to take a step back and breathe and look at yourself,” said Angelo Villarreal, who plays the dark and controlling minister Shaw Moore, Ariel's father.

The tension between adults and teens drives the narrative and heightens the drama, Villarreal said.

“Some numbers make you want to cry, and some numbers will make you want to get up and dance,” he added.

“It's the kind of music that you can't get out of your head for a week,” Saliby said.

Villarreal, a senior who wants to become a choral director like Miller, said the new teacher takes a collaborative approach, asking students their opinions and knowledge of past practices.

“He's been doing so well. I'm really proud of him,” Villarreal said.

Saliby agreed: “He's taken on a huge challenge in the Craig music department, and I think he's doing really well with it. He's pulling stuff out of us (as far as vocal range) that I think we didn't see in ourselves.”

Miller seems on his way to finding a home at Craig, and like a coach or a parent, he's putting in the extra hours to make it work.

“It's fun,” Miller said. “I never feel like the work I put in is not worth it. It's always validated by the students and the parents.”

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