BRUNSWICK, Maine — Until a couple of years ago, Brunswick High School senior Lukas Schipper was more accustomed to lifting a javelin over his head than a leotard-clad dancer, and more practiced running the 4-by-400 relay than dancing and singing on stage.
These days, his practice energy is directed at a stage instead of a track.
George Rowe, another senior athlete, rehearsed his role as Jets leader Riff while clad in a Brunswick Dragons T-shirt and shorts. Between scenes, he grabbed a lacrosse stick and threw a ball against the brick wall outside.
Schipper and Rowe are among a handful of Brunswick High School athletes who bowed out of various varsity sports in recent years to join popular drama productions such as this spring’s “West Side Story.”
This year, that means trading weight training and speed drills for a quick course in ballet.
“It’s time-consuming,” Rowe said of the nightly three-hour rehearsals, which will become five- to 12-hour stints during “Hell Week” just before the show opens March 20. “We have to put in a lot of work.”
Lilly Gardiner, a 16-year-old sophomore who plays “wannabe Jet” Anybody’s, has danced for 13 years. She’s amazed at how much the guys have improved. And by joining the Brunswick Players, she said, “They broke down the cliques.”
That barrier-breaking could be seen Thursday, as the cast rehearsed musical numbers such as “Gee, Officer Krupke!” Adams Carney, 15, who plays Sharkboy, has trained in dance for 10 years. Carney said he likely wouldn’t have interacted with some of these athletes had they not joined the theater productions.
“They’re the school celebrities,” he said. “But this makes it much easier to talk to them.”
And, he said, the athletes have become really good at dance.
“They tried something new and they’re really killing it,” Carney said.
Elliot Boyd, 17, another Jet, gave up a spot on the varsity basketball team last year to join the school’s production of “Grease.”
“The type of people you meet in theater are different people,” Boyd said. “They’re more outgoing in a way … they’re more open to new things — I don’t know — to different people, especially.”
At Brunswick High School, the annual spring production is so popular that some 80 students auditioned for about 60 parts. And competition was fierce, Gardiner said, with “lots of tears after the audition.”
“We have a really, really strong program,” said Pamela Mutty, director of the Brunswick High School Players, who has led the drama productions for 20 years. “We try to cast everybody who tries out, but the stage wouldn’t hold them all.”
Last year’s production of “Grease” sold out the 600-seat Crooker Theater for all four performances.
“It’s exciting to see that many boys, and they’re excited, which makes everyone else excited,” musical director Ashley Smith said.
“We’re really lucky that it’s cool to be in theater here,” Mutty said.