MBI Welcomes You to Derry

MBI Welcomes You to Derry

By Emily Ward

Mastering a character to best tell a storyline is something everyone in the winter guard world knows by heart, but a team from Minnesota took this idea a step further in their 2023 performance. Athletes from the MBI Winter Guard program brought audiences right into the 2017 hit horror movie, It, with their program entitled “Welcome to Derry.”

Program director, Wil Furnstahl, said the design team made the show come together rather easily. “It started last summer from a conversation of, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny to do a Pennywise show to ‘99 Red Balloons’,” recalled Furnstahl. A couple of weeks later, one of the design team members created the first version of the show music.

Furnstahl said it “included really great covers of ‘99 Red Balloons’ and ‘Every Breath You Take,’ along with various other audio and voice-over effects.” When the team was first told about their 2023 winter guard show, they didn’t know what to think.

“It was such a deviation from anything we or anyone in our circuit had ever done, so there wasn’t much for mental reference,” said Furnstahl. “The staff was confident in our vision, so we simply had to convey to [the team] that level of confidence and excitement.”

Trusting their coaching staff to the very end, each athlete took on the Pennywise character, ready to thrill the world at every performance.

The first step the staff took was to make sure every performer understood the character’s development throughout the show.

At the show’s beginning, the team needed to act more childish to resemble a young character named Georgie, one of the first to be taken by Pennywise in the original story. Towards the middle, athletes needed to begin taking on the clown role with more sinister excitement. By the end, the staff wanted the performers to be downright scary.

We had lots of sessions where they performed segments for each other, so they could see how far to push the character. It was so much more than just a facial expression. It was a total-body way of moving
Wil Furnstahl

Once the characterization was achieved, it was time to develop costuming and make-up.The staff wanted to make the reveal of Pennywise as epic as possible. The team started their show in yellow raincoats, facing backstage with their hoods pulled up. This concealed their clown costumes and helped symbolize Georgie’s character.

To complete the Pennywise look, it took members up to two hours to be hair and make-up ready on a show day.

“We did a lot of make-up exploration and experimentation, behind-the-scenes, throughout November and December, which included ordering a wide range of receding hairline wigs and raincoats,” said Furnstahl.

Each performance brought the program and audience members so much joy.

“The [audience’s] reaction was absolutely unlike anything we’d ever experienced,” said Furnstahl. “When the first coat was removed to reveal our first glimpse of Pennywise, the crowd absolutely exploded in cheers and screams.”

At the teams WGI regional competition in Chicago, Furnstahl said the team felt so much emotion from audience members.

“We had people–even crowds–following us, taking pictures, and requesting selfies with the performers,” Furnstahl happily said. “We also had instances of the opposite where people fled in terror.”

The staff and performers of MBI are so grateful for the appreciation and recognition their 2023 program received.

“Creating and performing a show concept that has garnered such a visceral reaction—both on and off the floor—that’s a rare achievement these days, especially for a [growing] group like MBI,” said Furnstahl.

Furnstahl and the rest of the staff at MBI can’t wait to see what next season brings the team.

About the Author:

Emily Ward is a junior at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, and is studying to receive her bachelor’s degree in mass communications with a concentration in broadcast news. She is also a psychology minor. She began colorguard her junior year of high school, and was a captain of Sunlake High School’s Open Class team and has since spun for the University of South Florida.