Theatre Department begins whopper of a task, bringing ‘Big Fish’ to life

While a relatively unknown musical, ‘Big Fish’ will amaze audiences


Jenna Schleter

The cast of “Big Fish” works on choreography for a large group number.

Jenna Schleter, Reporter

Since 1974, the Gibson Southern Theatre Department has been putting on musicals for the school and the community. Fast forward to 2022, Gibson Southern Theatre Director Adam Bledsoe chose the musical “Big Fish” as the spring musical for 2023. 

“I love the movie ‘Big Fish,’” Bledsoe said. “I saw the movie between 2003 and 2004. I was very intrigued by the story and the different layers. I was a huge Tim Burton fan at the time. I saw ‘Big Fish’ at the University of Evansville in 2015 in the Shanklin Theatre. ‘Big Fish’ has always been in the back of my mind.”

Kathy Parks, the founder of Gibson Southern Theatre in 1974, still manages to help with Vaudeville and the musicals. 

“I think he made a great choice,” Parks said. “It wasn’t a show that I was familiar with, so it is going to be fun to work on.”

Junior Aaron Meny practices walking on stilts with senior Nicholas Borchelt and junior Jeffrey Long giving him support. Aaron plays the Karl the Giant. (Jenna Schleter)

There is a lot of work that goes into making a show happen. Bledsoe manages to put a show on with only ten weeks of working with the cast. 

 “Bledsoe is very organized when it comes to the musical,” Parks said. “You don’t hang around and do nothing. Everyone has something to do. There is something going on in the building that is being worked on for the show every day.”

There is a lot of artwork, like set pieces, being created for the musical. As shows have passed by over the years, Gibson Southern’s art teacher, Laura Russell, takes some of the pieces from past musicals and turns them into something completely different for the next show. 

I would say right now, at this point, [the biggest challenge] is remaking the ‘Matilda’ drop into what looks like a wooden wall because it is such a big drop,” Russell said.

In the last several years, the Theatre Department has produced “Newsies,” “Matilda” and “The Little Mermaid.” “Big Fish” is a departure from the type of show the department has been doing. It is about a father and son relationship, and the storyline follows the father telling wild stories to his son. This is very much different than the past Disney shows, but Bledsoe feels like he and the cast are up for a challenge. 

“This show would be a perfect year for us to do something that was a contrast to what we have done in the last couple of shows,” Bledsoe said. “To me, it was all about what show can we do that is going to allow our Theatre Department to grow and to be better. I felt like it was the right year to tackle the challenges this show brings. I think our audience and community are ready to see something different.”

Despite the contrast to previous years, the theatre department is hopeful that the show will be appealing to any audience member.

“I hope that it will be a show that all ages can relate to,” Parks said. “We have done these wonderful and splashy shows that are children’s focus. They were great and wonderful. This is going to be a great show for all ages to relate to because we see the characters of all ages in their life. There is humor in the show, spectacle in it. There are themes, civility of times and accents from the South. I think the audience, when they walk away, will be satisfied and yet think there is more to this.”

Daffodils – thousands of daffodils – are needed for “Big Fish.” Junior Grace Neice spends her Saturday making as many daffodils as she can. (Jenna Schleter)

With the story being told in the South, some of the cast members, like seniors Jake Decker and Brooklyn Casburn and junior Cassie Reeves, and have to learn how to speak with an accent, just like “Matilda” before COVID-19 shut down the production. 

“I did a workshop for accents,” Parks said. “I got it put together so I could discuss what we are looking for and then show video clips.”

After having record-breaking attendance to “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” last year, Bledsoe is hoping for great success for this year’s musical. 

“I am expecting that we will be having a lot of people come to see the show even though they are not familiar with it,” Bledsoe said. “I think they are going to say, ‘I don’t know, I was at ‘Little Mermaid’ last year; it was fantastic. I’m going to go.’ I am expecting the ticket sales to also be affected by the success of last year, in a positive way. For those people who do decide to come to the show, they are in for a good show and a great treat.”

Throughout the week the cast is conducting read throughs, singing, dancing and blocking. All of this is done to achieve their weekly goals, which will bring the show together in time for opening night. During the ten weeks, Saturdays are designated as workdays, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Each cast member works on costumes, set pieces or art to help to get everything in order and to make the musical run smoothly. 

“We have a really good setup to where we are working on three to four scenes each week,” Bledsoe said. “It gives us the opportunity for three days on stage, one day that we focus on full company and vocals, three days on stage for blocking the scenes and another day where Hutch works with small groups for solos. KP works with the cast for the first readings. It gives us that time to find those key moments.”

The opening night for “Big Fish” is March 17. The entire show weekend is March 17-19. During that time, the Theatre Department will have four shows: Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and the closing show will be Sunday at 2 p.m.

“I have full faith as a department for this year or we wouldn’t be doing this show,” Bledsoe said. “… Every show we do is a risk. We are ready for the challenge. I am a firm believer that if we get people here, we can take them on this journey to tell them this story, and they will love what we do.”