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INTERVIEW: On Collide’s Class of ’85 Return (x2)

Lifts, leans, and arm-raises in COLLIDE Theatrical’s Class of ’85, which returns for a 4-show revival at the Gremlin Theater in St. Paul from July 21-24. Photo by Alexis Lund.

COLLIDE Theatrical is nine years’ old. For a child to be going to high school at this tender age would be something extraordinary, but for COLLIDE, it’s kind of a thing. The powerhouse contemporary dance company first went to high school for its second-ever production, Class of ’85, back in 2014, at the toddler age of 2.

Following a revival of Class of ’85 this past April, COLLIDE has decided that it’s not ready to leave high school yet, bringing the dance-musical with a rocking ’80s soundtrack to Saint Paul for one more go at graduation. The Arts Reader’s Basil Considine spoke with several members of the ensemble.

It wouldn’t be the 1980s without breakdancing. Pictured: Patrick Jeffrey (foreground). Photo by Alexis Lund.

What’s a favorite moment in or aspect of this show, and why?

Renee: Throughout the show, we get a glimpse into each character’s backstory. A favorite moment in the show for me is when all of our backstories have been told, the walls have broken down and we start to truly connect with each other. After so much uncertainty in the performing arts because of COVID, this was a moment in the show that I always felt extremely grateful to be dancing and connecting with these amazing artists.

Regina: My favorite moment is when we see the story behind the Rebel, played by Jarod Boltjes. He comes from a home with domestic abuse….and has learned his behavior from his father. He is also in a gay relationship with another character – and this is the first time both his relationship and his home life is revealed. Heather Brockman’s choreography in the piece is stunning, and Jarod’s portrayal of the character is heartbreaking, forcing both the audience and characters within the story to change their perception of the Rebel character.

Patrick: I really enjoy the moments where the classmates come together and focus on what connects them rather than what separates them. If we could do that as a nation and as a planet, we would be a lot better off for the generations to come.

Patrick, introduce your character to us – who do you play, what do they want, what (or whom) do they get frustrated with?

Patrick: I play Blake Scott, the jock. Blake got into football and other sports in hopes that he would get good enough for his father to come back into his life. Blake also wants to be liked and considered cool by everyone. He gets frustrated when people don’t see how cool he is.
In Collide’s Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (Betsy Nelson, left) pens a key scene from her novel: Dr. Frankenstein (Patrick Jeffrey, right)’s creation of The Monster (Renee Guittar). Photo by Wells Film and Photo.
Patrick, you’ve played some major characters in recent Collide productions – Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein and the Mad Hatter in Wonderland. How does your pre-performance preparation compare when playing a lead vs. being in the larger ensemble?
I don’t think there’s much difference in my preparation for different roles. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m a lead or part of an ensemble, my character development deserves the same amount of attention in both situations.

Regina: If I recall correctly, Class of ’85 was originally created for the Southern Theater, which retains something of a proscenium layout. For this revival, however, the show is being staged at the Gremlin Theater, which is usually set up in more of a thrust configuration. How is/has the show evolved for this different venue and relationship with the audience? 

Regina: I love smaller intimate venues for dance. Dance on large proscenium stages at times loses the ability to connect with the audience. The setup at Gremlin really allowed us to connect with the audience and draw them closer into the story.
This show breaks the 4th wall often, with the Principal addressing the audience as students at the high school. So the setting helped us with that high school auditorium feel at the top of the show.
Patrick Jeffrey (left) and Renee Guittar (right) in Class of ’85. Photo by Alexis Lund.
Collide is coming up on its 10-year anniversary of creating thrilling dance shows in the Twin Cities. What made you want to revisit Class of ’85 this year?
Regina: We have learned so much about how to tell a story through movement in the past 10 years. I really wanted to revisit this show and give more insight into the characters’ backstories.  In the previous production (2014) the majority of the storytelling was told through dialogue in between dance numbers…..forcing the dance numbers to become an emotional response to the action. In the retelling the movement is telling the story and allowing us to go deeper into the characters journey’s.
Regina, you were an Everwood Farmstead Artistic Resident last year. How was your experience, and what did you work on?
Regina: It was fantastic!!! I was able to work on our production of Frankenstein last year.  I was able to finesse the script and create some of my most favorite choreography to date. I have three little kids, so childcare expenses and time limit my ability to spend time in the studio. The retreat was a gift in many ways.

Renee, you were in the original cast of Class of ’85 in 2014. What is it like revisiting this show 8 years later? Was the choreography still “in your bones”, or was it more like learning the show all over again, especially with switching characters?

Renee: There were a few moments that I remembered the choreography and I did feel it in my muscle memory. But honestly, the show was updated and changed drastically. Almost all of the songs are different. The script is new. I played a different character with a completely different cast. So It felt like a new show to me.

Dancer Renee Guittar, a member of the original 2014 cast of Class of ’85, returns in the current production. Photo by Alexis Lund.

What about after the post-spring show break?

Renee: I am hoping that I will remember most of the show when we revisit it in July. I will practice on my own before rehearsals to review choreography, acting, and prop details.

Patrick, what’s next for you as a dancer?
Patrick: After this show I’ll be returning for one weekend as “The Mad Hatter” in Wonderland. After that I’ll be in the ensemble in The Ordway’s production of Beauty and the Beast.
The White Rabbit (Rush Benson), The Doctor (Jarod Boltjes), Alice (Miranda Shaughnessy), and the Mad Hatter (Patrick Jeffrey) in Collide Theatrical’s 2020 dance show Wonderland, which was staged behind the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, MN. Photo by Wells Film & Photo.

Do you have a favorite pandemic dance (or other) special project that you worked on?

Renee: The first year of the pandemic was really hard for me as an artist. I did keep dancing, teaching and performing but I was planning to leave the arts because I was depressed and disconnected from my community, like many other people were. It wasn’t until Wonderland with Collide, which we started working on in April 2021, when I started feeling better. It was still the pandemic but we were all getting vaccinated for the first time. We were dancing together and I was thrilled.

We performed outside at James J. Hill House and Mill City Museum and I remember being so happy. It was my favorite project because it was the first one that felt somewhat “normal” to me.

Class of ’85 runs July 21-24 at Gremlin Theater in Saint Paul, MN.

Basil Considine