“Since kindergarten I have been dreaming of choreographing something for the Benson stage. Last year I met one of my goals when I was performing on the Benson stage, and now I am choreographing something that goes on that stage. The biggest stage in Arkansas I get to put my work on,” sophomore Olivia Ballinger said of the making of this year’s Homecoming musical, “Crazy For You.”
Ballinger, a Searcy native, attended Harding Academy from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and has been involved in theater and performance since her seventh grade year. She is now working as a jazz choreographer for this year’s Homecoming musical. According to Ballinger, her time spent at Harding University’s Honor Choir summer program contributed to her love of performance and allowed her to develop her skills as a dancer.
“I have never had a dance class in my entire life,” Ballinger said. “They do a broadway medley that’s seven minutes long and that is where I really learned how to broadway-style dance.”
Ballinger coordinated both the staging and choreography for her social club, Chi Omega Pi, during last year’s Spring Sing show, as well as performed in the ensemble for last year’s Homecoming musical, “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“I feel like I’m not that experienced, but when I start talking about it, I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience,” Ballinger said.
She said she is especially excited to bring her skills to this year’s show.
“It’s a not well-known musical, so that’s been a challenge, but kind of an exciting challenge, because no one has expectations for it,” Ballinger said.
According Ballinger, the production’s obscurity is not the only thing that makes this year’s musical unique.
“Another new thing is that there is a lot of tap in this musical,” Ballinger said. “So much so that we have three choreographers.”
Ballinger works alongside junior Sarah Dixon and Harding alumna Kelsey Sumrall to bring this year’s production to life. Sumrall, like Ballinger, primarily focuses her skills on choreographing jazz routines, while Dixon focuses on tap.
According to Dixon, working as the show’s only tap choreographer has been a rewarding experience, both for herself and the rest of the cast.
“Tap is so different from any style of dance because it’s like percussion with your feet, and so I just kind of pushed them out there, and I said ‘I don’t really want to modify this because this is Gershwin and I think it’s a great show and it has great music and the original has some great choreography in it,'” Dixon said. “And so I didn’t want to water it down, I wanted it to be really good, and I wanted us to show what we can do, because I think we have a lot of talented people.”
Although “Crazy for You” is Dixon’s first experience working with the Harding Department of Theatre, she is no stranger to stagework. Dixon said that she took dance lessons from the time she was three years old until her senior year of high school, and spent three of her high school years teaching dance.
“I always knew that I wanted to do something theater-related at Harding, but I just didn’t exactly know what, because I’m not involved in a club and I didn’t really feel that interested in Spring Sing,” Dixon said.
Instead, Dixon spoke with the show’s producer, Cindee Stockstill, in the spring, and asked about her hectic schedule and whether or not it would be wise to audition. In turn, Stockstill asked if Dixon would want to instruct tap choreography as well.
“So I picked up two different jobs there,” Dixon said. “But I’m glad, it’s been a good experience thus far.”
Sumrall has been participating in the theater since the 7th grade. She graduated from Harding in December 2015, and has an extensive history of involvement with the university’s theatre department, including a performance as the Fairy Godmother in Harding’s 2014 Homecoming musical “Shrek,” and serving as a Spring Sing hostess in 2015.
“I came to Harding just expecting to be involved in the shows, and ended up becoming a theatre education major my sophomore year,” Sumrall said. “I did every Spring Sing and every Homecoming musical while I was here, and a few other plays, and then the drama teacher at Harding Academy ended up moving, and so I got her job.”
For Sumrall, the most exciting thing about her role in this year’s musical has been the opportunity to contribute to the show in a way that is different from her involvement in past years.
“My creativity is being showcased,” Sumrall said, “I’ve been in (theatre) for so long and so it’s been neat for me to get to add to the vision for the show, and for things that I came up with to be part of it.”