Blood, Sweat, and Cheers

This play about competitive cheerleading doesn't always fly as high as its heroines, but the athleticism is awesome

Cheer machine: the cast of <i>Blood, Sweat, and Cheers</i>
Cheer machine: the cast of Blood, Sweat, and Cheers (Photo courtesy of Jon Bolden)

Blood, Sweat, and Cheers

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd.
www.austincheershow.com
Through June 9
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

The five lead performers at the heart of Blood, Sweat, and Cheers trained for months to master the moves of cheerleading. In the new show from Mr. and Mrs. Danger Productions, directed by Roy Janik, they are backed by a chorus of actual cheerleaders from Austin Cheer Factory, and the result is some really awesome cheerleading that should put to rest any suggestion that cheerleaders aren't hardworking athletes. Watching the tosses and tumbles is great fun and renewed my admiration for a good pair of quad muscles.

There's also a play. In response to June's (Kaci Beeler) apathetic teenage ways, her parents insist that she return to competitive cheerleading, which she abandoned two years ago shortly before the championships. At first, June drags her feet through the routines, resisting the pull of perfectionism. She just wants to escape so she can hang out with her guy-buddy/not-quite-boyfriend James (Alex Dobrenko), but her priorities get muddled as the competition heats up. When team captain/rival Kennedy (Halyn Erickson) threatens her, June decides to go all out and cheer like she's never cheered before.

Some improvisers can be great actors and vice versa. The crossover is not automatic, however. Each craft has its own skill set and requires work to learn it. Delivery is key. Having lines memorized doesn't preclude spontaneity; a good actor can make established dialog sound perfectly natural. Here, actors repeatedly seem uncertain about what they're supposed to say next, and appear equally unsure of when they're supposed to say it. An improvised performance that builds its plot from audience suggestions collected on the spot almost inevitably has those moments of uncertainty, at all but the top levels of improv. A scripted play, however, isn't supposed to have stammering confusion over what the next line is or when it begins.

I don't know if writers Amy Gentry and Beeler scripted every line here or merely outlined beats and are permitting their improv-trained actors to work their way through each scene fresh with each performance. If it's the former, then the cast needs to work on memorization and confidence. If it's the latter, then the cast needs to work to get their delivery to match the great physical work put forth in the cheers.

Characters also lack nuance. Anybody who's seen an interview with legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi knows that coaches can be ridiculous, intense, and brilliant. Here, though, Jay (Curtis Luciani) and Kay (Gentry) wind up more like caricatures of obsessive cheer coaches. Jay's speech about epic bow-making, intended to motivate the squad, does more to mock cheerleading for its insistence on matching poofy hairpieces, which undermines the play's efforts to show cheerleading in a positive light.

Blood, Sweat, and Cheers can be a fun show. The story is lightweight, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The play's rough edges keep it from reaching the same heights as the girls thrown into the air in the basket-toss moves, but many audiences will still enjoy what the show has to offer.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Capital T Theatre's <i>The Hunchback Variations</i> and <i>...Faustus</i>
Capital T Theatre's The Hunchback Variations and ...Faustus
The company's pairing of two Mickle Maher one-acts gets lit about art in a sublime way

Elizabeth Cobbe, Nov. 16, 2018

Mary Moody Northen Theatre's <i>Men on Boats</i>
Mary Moody Northen Theatre's Men on Boats
With a diverse cast of women playing white men exploring the Grand Canyon, this show recasts history to show guys who just don't get it

Robert Faires, Nov. 16, 2018

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Texas Book Festival 2018: Alternate Realities: Sci-Fi in 2018
Texas Book Festival 2018: Alternate Realities: Sci-Fi in 2018
V.E. Schwab and John Scalzi ponder the point of writing sci-fi

Oct. 29, 2018

Zach Theatre's <i>Once</i>
Zach Theatre's Once
This musical disarms the cynicism of our age with the sweet story of a guy and a girl who bond over music

Oct. 5, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

BloodSweatand Cheers, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers, Austin theatre, Mr. and Mrs. Danger Productions, Kaci Beeler, Amy Gentry, Roy Janik, Curtis Luciani, Halyn Erickson, Alex Dobrenko

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle