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Friend de Coup season begins with ‘three great shows,’ director holds high hopes for '21-'22 competitions

“The expectation is excellence and greatness, and it's always been that," Friend de Coup Director Nick McGraw said.

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Students from Mitchell High School sing their hearts out to "Tongues" during Friend De Coup's Up With Show performance on Dec. 3, 2021, at the Performing Arts Center. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

On cold December evenings, inside Mitchell’s Performing Arts Center, it’s not uncommon to find a group of 70 kids singing and dancing their hearts out.

They aren’t performing for a crowd. Instead, they’re practicing for Friend de Coup’s next show.

“It gets a little stressful as we get closer to the show,” said Iris Anderson, a senior vocal section leader of Friend de Coup, “but we trust and know that our hard work will come together in the end.”

From Dec. 2-4, the Mitchell High School show choir group performed Up With Show, their annual season-opening performance.

After a year of performing to a limited crowd as a precaution against COVID-19, the PAC was packed for Up With Show, filled with fans looking to catch a glimpse at what the group has been working on since their auditions in September.

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“It was a little bit difficult (last year) not having the energy of the audience or other groups there when we were performing,” Anderson said. “We really feed off of the audience’s energy when we perform.”

Having a large audience return to the PAC led to a strong performance — something Friend de Coup Director Nick McGraw couldn’t be happier about.

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Iris Anderson, second from left, and four other vocalists perform a special set of "Proud Corazon" during Friend De Coup's Up With Show performance on Dec. 3, 2021, at the Performing Arts Center. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

“We had three great shows — we all are super happy with how things turned out,” McGraw said. “Attendance was great. We had probably slightly above average crowds.”

Up With Show saw the group’s 51 singers and dancers — plus 20 set crew members — come together to perform seven musical numbers and feature 19 special sets of smaller groups. Each day of the show also featured a guest performance: Mitchell Area Children’s Choir at their Thursday performance and Mitchell Middle School choirs at their Friday and Saturday performances.

McGraw said three successful performances is a great indicator of how well the group can and will perform in the 2021-22 competitive and community seasons.

“This is my third year here, and this is the best they have been singing and dancing at this point of the year. So that's exciting. It seems like good things are in store,” McGraw said. “But, the work needs to continue, the kids will need to continue to work really hard to push themselves in order for that to happen.”

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Anderson said the Friend de Coup was happy with the group’s Up With Show performance, but points out that consistent quality production is a culmination of dedication and persistence the performers put in.

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Friend de Coup performers hold a long note while performing "Sanctuary" at the group's Up With Show performance on Dec. 3, 2021, at the Performing Arts Center. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

“Overall we’re very happy and satisfied with (Up With Show),” Anderson said. “It’s always good to go into [a show] with high expectations because it makes us work harder. Everybody struggles a bit sometimes with work ethic, but at the end of the day we just buckle down.”

As is typical with any high school activity, the group is also recuperating from the loss of last year’s senior class.

“Every year there's been kids that you hate to see (graduate) and you think ‘How could things continue without them?’ With no disrespect to them, there’s always people that step up to the plate,” McGraw said. “That's just kind of a natural cycle. It will always happen again the next year, and people will surprise you and step up when they’re kind of forced into that situation.”

This year, the group will compete against schools in at least seven different tournaments between Jan. 25 and April 2, 2022, when the group will compete at the Show Choir Live qualifiers, vying for a chance to repeat their national recognition of grand champions of last year’s Show Choir Live competition , where they out-performed 28 of the best high school show choir groups from across the country.

“The expectation is excellence and greatness, and it's always been that. I think the students take a lot of pride in knowing ‘This is what we do,’ and then also living up to the great student leaders and expectations that have come before,” McGraw said.

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Following the completion of the competitive season, the group will perform their annual spring wrap-up for the community.

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The entire stage was filled with choreographed dancing and singing at Friend De Coup's Up With Show performance on Dec. 3, 2021, at the Performing Arts Center. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

“We wrap up our season a couple weeks after the [Mitchell Show Choir Classic competition] with what has traditionally been called Dinner Theater,” McGraw said. “We're rebranding it moving forward — this year, we're calling it Cabaret.”

Cabaret, scheduled for April 7-9 at the PAC, will see Friend de Coup perform their competition shows for the community, plus give a peek at other spring numbers and solos that were developed over the course of the season.

The SDHSAA All-State Show Choir, set to perform May 5-7 at South Dakota State University’s Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center, will see 52 of the top high school choir singers from across the state perform a three day show together.

The SDHSAA abandoned a competition style tournament in favor of an all-state performance in 2019 due to a lack of participating schools and troubles agreeing on rules.

Friend de Coup had won three class “AA” state show choir titles during the competition tournament era.

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