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Stephen Todd: The man behind the moves of Friend de Coup

During elementary school, Stephen Todd's favorite day was when the mysterious singing and dancing group would perform. Year after year, the same singing and dancing group would stop by his school, and Todd would happily go down to the gymnasium w...

(Photo Courtesy of Stephen Todd)
(Photo Courtesy of Stephen Todd)

During elementary school, Stephen Todd's favorite day was when the mysterious singing and dancing group would perform.

Year after year, the same singing and dancing group would stop by his school, and Todd would happily go down to the gymnasium with his classmates and watch the performance in awe.

He didn't know who this group was or where they came from. What he knew is that they were good.

Junior high came and again he watched this group with the same enthusiasm as he did in elementary school. It was when he was about to enter high school that he put two and two together.

This was Friend de Coup, Mitchell High School's award-winning show choir. And he knew he had to be a part of it.

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'A place to belong'

Nervous, yet eager, to be a part of this inspiring group that he grew up watching, Todd auditioned for Friend de Coup.

And, of course, he made it into the show choir as a freshman - a feat few other had accomplished at the time.

That was more than 20 years ago, and still today, Todd is an active leader and role model for the group that has given him so much.

The now 36-year-old graduated from Mitchell High School in 1998, and went on to obtain a degree in musical theater with a minor in dance in 2002 from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. He later earned a master's degree in vocal performance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010.

And throughout this time at college, Todd would continue to return to Mitchell and help with the choreography for Friend de Coup.

"There's just something about the town and to be honest with you the show choir, the music and the show choir and musicals everything the high school afforded me saved my life because it gave me a place to belong," Todd said. "I want to give back to the program that gave me so much and give those kids a place."

His passion for choreography - something he never intended on doing - grew and soon he was choreographing for even more groups across the country.

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While he has been choreographing since his sophomore year at Mitchell High School in 1996, Todd did not plan on going into that profession.

Shortly after graduating from Millikin University, the Mitchell native moved to New York City to be an actor. Todd made his New York City debut in the reading of a new musical called "M. Claudel," working alongside Eartha Kitt. He has since starred in many regional theaters across the country, and was featured in 2003 in the Broadway National Tour of "Kiss me Kate," which included a pitstop at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls.

While Todd has lived across the country, living in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis and many more, he always makes a return to Mitchell.

And he's been doing it for years. Todd refers to himself as the "crazy uncle" for the Friend de Coup kids, and especially enjoys watching them discover who they are, not just as performers.

"They grow and learn not just music and dance, but also as people. The program allows them to learn responsibility, group dynamics and there's so much more that they learn," Todd said. " ... It's all because of the program. And I think It's important that you give back to your community where you come from."

Maintaining excellence

Todd has become one of the top choreographers in the country, winning several national awards such as the Visual Vanguard.

This award is a part of the Aspire Awards, presented during the Show Choir Finals. These awards are for the industry's top professionals that are working and contributing to the advancement of show choir.

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The highly sought-after choreographer worked with 19 show choir groups this year. Some, he works with for two days, while others he'lll spend an entire week with. But there's one group he spends most of his time with - Friend de Coup.

Each year, Todd stops by for a day or two throughout the fall semester, but it's during winter break that he, along with the new show choir director Jen Randall, spend an entire week perfecting the group's show for the season. And they typically finish within days of their first performance.

But it works out year after year, as the show choir has continuously been successful in many of its competitions. And a lot of it is because of Todd, according to Randall.

Randall is in her first year as Friend de Coup's director, succeeding Chris Miller, who directed FDC for nine years. Under Miller's direction, the show choir won a national championship in 2011 as well as first place in South Dakota's first-ever state show choir competition this spring.

And while FDC has been directed by some accomplished directors, Randall credits Todd for the group's consistent success.

"He really is the heartbeat of that program," Randall said. "Directors have come and gone and FDC has stayed at a level of excellence that is really hard to maintain in this world. Solely, I will give him credit for that."

A new season begins

Randall has known Todd since 2006 when they met at a show choir camp. Todd was new to teaching, as was Randall.

She said, together, they grew into the educators they are today.

"He's always been very passionate ... that's what makes him so good at what he does. It's not just that he's just a good dancer and a good choreographer, he's an extraordinary educator, who takes a lot of care for these students mentally, not just putting on a show," Randall said.

On Monday, Todd left Mitchell for New York City. It's his "offseason" right now as all of the show choir groups he choreographs for are now in mid-season.

While in the "Big Apple," Todd said he plans to enjoy some time off before the season picks up again in June with show choir camps throughout the summer.

And even though he's on vacation, Todd said he still follows Friend de Coup's success as they travel to compete, along with several other groups he helps out.

This past weekend, FDC took third place at the 34th annual Urbandale Show Choir Invitational over 19 other groups. This was the group's second competition of the season. The first, called Westside Competition of Excellence, took place in Omaha, Nebraska. Here, the group earned first runner-up just behind Riverside Company, a group based out of Hastings, Minnesota. Friend de Coup also was awarded Best choreography and Best Closer.

As Todd watches from afar as his hometown's show choir excels in this year's season, he knows it won't be long until he will once again be home. And Randall knows it, too.

"These are his babies ..." Randall said. "And this is his home."

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