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Growing up on stage at VMS

Preston Utley/Vail DailyFascinated by glittery gowns and perfect harmonies when she was 5, Lia Zneimer now a senior Vail Mountain School has spent her share of time on and behind the scenes of the school's stage.
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By Lia Zneimer

Senior Section Contributor

The first musical I saw at the Vail Mountain School was the upper school production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” As a 5-year-old kindergartner, I was enthralled by the Doo-Wop girls’ sparkly costumes, seemingly perfect harmonies and the grace that I presumed came along with upper school.

Naturally, I was terrified of the man-eating plant and had nightmares for weeks, but it was worth it. And such was my introduction to the VMS theater department.

The campus center, or “gymatorium” as we so fondly came to call it, used to seem like a professional theater, and I lionized the students who performed in it. The upper students looked so “old” ” I never could have fathomed that one day I, too, would be performing on that stage.

There was something endearing about the gymatorium. We would convert the locker rooms into temporary dressing rooms, the kindergarten classroom became our green room, and we taped construction paper over the windows to block out the light for matinees.

Our makeshift backstage area was cluttered with sets and props from what seemed like every show in VMS history. The names of the cast members from the 1993 production of “Little Shop of Horrors” were spray-painted on the back of the flats that we used as backdrops.

The gymatorium was a wonderful venue in its own way. I started off on that stage at age 11, playing Brigitta in the upper school production of “The Sound of Music.”

I remained very involved in VMS’s theater department, taking on lead roles in “The Music Man,” “Our Town,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and “The Boy Friend.”

I’ve watched the theater program evolve as it went from practically nonexistent to something I am proud of.

See Growing up on stage, page 2

I subconsciously dreaded the destruction of the gymatorium this summer. I worried that with the demolition of the building, we would tear down years’ worth of memories and traditions. In exchange for a gorgeous new auditorium, complete with dressing rooms, high-tech lighting and curtains that actually work, I feared we would sacrifice simplicity and the age-old rituals to which only the “theater kids” were privy.

Yet performing in such an amazingly equipped theater has its advantages; the acoustics are much better than those in the gymatorium, we have the space and the facilities to do complex set construction and lighting design, there is a pit for a live band, and, most importantly, the new stage is large enough to accommodate the growing number of students interested in theater.

I’m a stickler for tradition. Much as I was excited to be a part of the first musical performed in the new auditorium, I secretly missed the intimacy and comfort of our tiny stage in the gymatorium. This February, I had the chance to play Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors,” the same show that I saw as a kindergartener.

Thirteen years ago, I was the little 5-year-old girl in the audience who couldn’t wait to grow up and perform like the big kids. That’s the wonderful part about VMS; you watch your role models, and unknowingly become one of them through the eyes of the younger students.

During our last performance, I looked out into the faces in the audience in the dark and wondered if there was a kindergarten-aged girl out there who would someday be performing on this very stage. Although this was my finale of many memorable performances at VMS, I know that I have helped to create new traditions for future students to follow.

Vail Colorado


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