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Footloose got too loose

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Every successful production has its share of challenges, and Footloose encountered one when actor Braeden Willnerd dislocated his knee during the final dress rehearsal, the night before opening night.

Willnerd was originally cast in the role of Willard Hewitt, one of the larger roles with a lot of lines, singing and dancing, but when the tragedy with Willnerd’s knee happened, it put the entire production in jeopardy. 

“The rehearsal had lasted far too long, and now we were at the last dance. The other female dancers were sliding under the legs of the male dancers while I was doing a cartwheel in front of Jaci Foster. “When I started to finish my cartwheel after landing on my first leg, I somehow tripped over the person standing next to me, who then kicked me directly across the top of my kneecap, dislocating it and causing me to fall to the ground” Willnerd said. 

When Willnerd collapsed to the ground, Mark Harman, the choir director, didn’t take it too seriously because he has an excellent teacher-student relationship with the choir kids and they occasionally enjoy playing pranks on him.

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“As I was collapsed on the ground holding my knee, Harman and the orchestra had no idea. Obviously, I was in a bit of pain and started screaming some strong words in an attempt to get him to stop. When he finally realized I wasn’t trying to pull a practical joke on him, he stopped” Willnerd said. 

Staying calm in this stressful situation would be extremely difficult, but with the help of Harman right by Willnerd’s side, he managed to keep calm until he was transported to the hospital in the back of an ambulance. 

Willnerd’s injury left him emotionally and mentally broken because he was in his senior year and knew this was his final show at FHS. Willnerd put three months’ worth of time, energy and effort into developing this show, only to have it stolen from him the night before it was supposed to pay off.

Willnerd admitted, “Honestly, I don’t know how I made it through opening night.”

Willnerd was disappointed to see Peyton Harman, his understudy, perform during on night because he was unable to. Nonetheless, Willnerd is proud of Harman for stepping up and quickly memorizing all of Hewitt’s lines, songs and dances.

The best news of Willnerd’s life came to him after opening night and his doctor’s appointment. He was given permission to perform for the remaining performances. Willnerd was able to sing and act, but there was no dancing at all since he needed to keep his leg locked straight so that his knee can heal.

“After talking with doctors, I was given the all-clear to be able to stand, act, and sing but clearly no dancing. Although this was a relief, it was also rather distressing for me because dancing is by far my favorite aspect and what I had spent the most time and effort on,” Willnerd said. 

Willnerd’s need for crutches made it difficult for him to perform while still recovering from his knee injury.

Willnerd said, “performing on crutches adds a whole new level of difficulty to my part.”

While on stage, Willnerd had to pay closer attention to his surroundings, where he was going, and what he would do if something went wrong. Willnerd managed to execute flawlessly despite his anxiousness, and both performances were resounding successes.

“The audience made it clear to me that they were rooting for me and that, despite my injury, I could do anything—except dance. When I was at my lowest, everyone who helped me get back up and supported me made me feel so incredibly grateful,” Willnerd said.

Willnerd was challenged to a whole new level, and because of everyone’s love and support, he was able to persevere through adversity to a level he didn’t realize he was capable of.

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