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People-eating plant takes center stage at Shady Side Academy’s spring musical |
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People-eating plant takes center stage at Shady Side Academy’s spring musical

Tawnya Panizzi
| Thursday, February 7, 2019 6:58 a.m
Sharon Drake | For the Tribune-Review
Shady Side Academy student Max Minard voices the people-eating plant for the school’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” while Sanjna Narayan is puppeteer. Ava Caron, Bridget Onest and Lucie Green created the plant, along with Lily Scheele (not pictured).

One famous plant is springing to life at Shady Side Academy’s Hillman Center.

The student production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” on stage Feb. 8-10, stars a people-eating plant named Audrey II.

The plant is actually four puppets, brought to life by students.

Petite puppeteer Sanjna Narayan sits inside and manipulates the nearly 80-pound plant as Audrey II takes center stage, literally.

Temperatures get so hot inside the puppets that Narayan needs ice packs. With the prop nearly as heavy as she, Narayan said she worked out to stay in shape for the physicality of her part.

Senior Max Minard is the voice of Audrey II in its adult stages. The puppet’s machinations and threats are central to the plot of the plant taking over a flower shop and eating flesh and

drinking blood.

Minard auditioned in November and soon began learning the songs. He worked with a singing coach and developed a deep tone and a slight, Southern drawl.

“I didn’t want to copy [the movie],” Minard said. “I worked hard on it.”

The true difficulty of making Audrey II bloom is coordinating Narayan’s movements, Minard’s voice and the musicians under the direction of Dr. Dan Brill.

Movement, music and sound converge from three different points in the Richard E. Rauh Theater.

“Max has individual flair,” Narayan said. “I know what he will say. We try to go off each other.”

In the week leading up to the shows, emphasis has been coordination — getting the puppet and the cast to act smoothly, without thorns. It’s been a challenge after losing three days of rehearsals to frigid temps and school closings last week.

But Stage Manager Austin Davidheiser, or “DH” as the students call him, said he and other theater leaders chose this comedy/horror/musical because of this crop of students.

“DH knew some of us would be willing and able to make the plant,” said senior crew member Lucie Green, who created Audrey II with Lily Scheele, Bridget Onest and Ava Caron.

Green worked through the snow days so the four stages of Audrey would be ready. A baby plant stars in the first act, with only leaves and a mouth. It’s followed by a toddler version in a pot and a juvenile one where Narayan sits inside the stem and works a hassock-sized mouth.

“The design of the plants came from the kids,” Davidheiser said.

Scheele, who has worked behind the scenes for four years, said, “I love crew. I like helping and being part of something that fits my skill set.”

Caron added, “All our work pays off. It’s a big part of the show.”

Theater at Shady Side Academy is devoted to creating a space for students to feel welcome and part of a team, Director Dana Hardy-Bingham said.

”Theater education creates confident, articulate, passionate young people who are going to be the leaders of our country and our world,” she said.

Sharon Drake is a contributing writer.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 412-782-2121 x1512, or via Twitter .

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