Audition Song Choices - The Demons Within

When theatre directors sit in at auditions, there is a laundry list of what they are looking for from the actors who take the stage as we have gone into before. But as I look at notes from auditions I have held in the past, a pattern comes up. The phrase "bad song choice" is seen over and over. It is a plague, and it must be stopped. So, I put it out to friends, colleagues and Facebook folks alike to see what they thought. There was some agreement and some mild debate, but it should give you a good look at what most directors do not want to see... maybe even never again.

Disney songs
Quite frankly, I was surprised to see the mouse get the axe. There are some great songs out there, but evidently there is some bad sentiment towards the Disney catalog. Cupertino High School theatre director Arcadia Conrad isn't a fan of "Part Of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, while Santa Cruz High freshman Enya Murray wouldn't mind a ban on "most Disney songs". Why the rancor? Well, Disney shows are so well known, that it is very hard to distance your performance from what we all hear in our heads thanks to the movies and soundtracks. We know every lilt, dynamic, and unique phrasing used by the performers in the originals that you are either in danger of being a copy-cat, or being looked as weird for trying to reinvent the wheel. Find a more savvy song choice that shows you know more than what is just popular.


Difficult Accompaniment
Composers like Steven Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Jason Robert Brown are known for their incredibly intricate or lavish orchestrations which are wonderful to behold when in the hands of a truly gifted group or a talented individual. The problem is that they are quite often just too hard for an audition pianist who is sightreading. It is a sad truth in our business that your average accompanist while skilled, is not there to get every note right. They are there to give you strong backing as you sing. So, giving them a piece like "On The Steps Of The Palace" from Into The Woods with its strange time signatures is just cruel. Either they will play it wrong, or they will play it so sparsely that it won't make sense to you or anyone. Rachel Michelberg agrees: keep it simple. Keep it in 4/4 with a strong downbeat, no crazy key-changes. And always work your pieces with a pianist beforehand.

Inappropriate
I love shows that show reality for what it is. Sex, drugs, violence, lies, love, loss, war, death... these all exist in real life and should exist in theatre in a tasteful manner. But, there are times when I really do not want a certain song coming from a certain performer. For example: if you are a fourteen year old, do not sing "When Your Good To Mama" from Chicago or "Man" from Full Monty. It is disgusting, period. Don't do it. I never want to hear such a young performer sing about sex. Also, stay away from songs that are just plain vulgar. Avenue Q is a killer show and I love it, but I don't want to hear many of the songs from it at auditions. It just doesn't showcase your skill as a performer, it showcases the material and the fact that you chose it. This category also goes into knowing your type, again we have talked about that before. Don't choose "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime or if you are barely in high-school. It is just awkward. Also, pop music fits into this realm. Musical theatre auditions are for musical theatre pieces unless directed otherwise. Keep pop out of the equation. It is a different style of music entirely and it doesn't often showcase good technique or storytelling skills which all performers need.

Step away from the sheet music, and no one gets hurt.
Done to death
Either it is an old gem, and we are all sick of it. Or it is a hot new show, and we are all sick of it. So, here is a short list of songs or entire shows that should just plain be avoided at auditions, unless you want a director to tune out the second you sing.

-Oklahoma (whole show)
-Rent (whole show)
-Annie (whole show, "Definitely ban 'Tomorrow'. Good song but WAY over done" - Victoria Jones)
-The Fantastics ("Much More" from The Fantasticks is way overdone! - local actress Kristen Carder)
-Wicked (whole show, especially "Popular". Louis "Joey" Kruse agrees, adds that Schwartz is also in the "difficult accompaniment" category)
-A Chorus Line ("What I Did For Love")
-Thoroughly Modern Millie ("Gimme Gimme", Carder says)

And the list could go on and on. This is a very small sample, and there are bound to be disagreements and exceptions. If the song is specifically requested, or the specific composer is requested, then all of this is basically null and void. The point is, be savvy about your choices. Song choices showcase your ability and talent as a performer, but they also show you are a knowledgeable and informed artist when it comes to the many incredible works that are out there. Prove to directors that you know your stuff and have a passion for musical theatre beyond what is just on the surface. Don't just pick the cool, popular, hard, strange, rare or funny songs. Pick the right ones. Break legs.

Ambitious, compelling Phantom captivates at Presentation

Guest Review By: Rachel Michelberg

When I heard that Presentation High School - an all-girls, private Catholic school - would be mounting Phantom of the Opera, I thought I must have heard wrong.  Maybe they were doing the other version, the practically unknown rendering by composer Ken Hill.  After all, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom is still running strong on Broadway, claiming the title of “longest running show” with over 9,500 performances to date.  Much like Les Misérables, Lloyd Weber’s Phantom is truly an enigma, a musical theater icon, a tour-de-force must-see kind of show that everyone AND their  most non-theater-(and definitely non-opera) loving  friend or neighbor is proud to boast, “I’ve seen Phantom – four times, actually.” 

But I had heard correctly.  Presentation High School did indeed mount the iconic Lloyd Weber version, complete with falling chandelier, misty boat ride, dropping corpses and all. In the capable hands of longtime Performing Arts director Jim Houle, the sellout run (selling out before opening night, I’m told) was a great success – judging from the audience’s enthusiastic reaction.   The talented young performers negotiated the impossibly difficult harmonies and vocal ranges with great determination and commitment.  It was crystal-clear that this had been a Herculean effort by directors, designers, crew and cast alike – not to mention the army of parent volunteers who sewed, hammered, painted, and ushered this dream of a production into reality. 

Despite the great admiration I have for the effort and indeed the final result, I must question the wisdom of asking high schoolers – talented though they may be – to navigate the vocal demands of this pseudo-opera.  As in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Phantom is almost entirely sung - straddling the line between opera and musical theater but clearly leaning toward the operatic side of the line.  As a result, many of the well-meaning young singers encountered pitch and tension problems, belying their youth and vocal inexperience. 

Anderson and Louladakis
As the ingénue Christine Daae, a dream role for any soprano, senior Mary Anderson was a picture of innocence and beauty.  At times the purity of her tone, particularly in the atmospheric high notes, took my breath away.   Her acting was understated but passionate, a rare dichotomy in such a young performer.   In the title role, Leland High senior Michael Louladakis capably portrayed the Phantom as Christine’s nemesis, seducer and pseudo-father.  The Phantom  must be sexy without being lewd, powerful yet vulnerable, simultaneously attractive and repulsive -  an almost impossible task. As  Raoul, Christine’s ardent suitor, Bellarmine junior Aidan Cleary  demonstrated some tender moments, particularly in the lovely duet with Christine “All I Ask of You.”  Junior Gaby Capiton’s sweet soprano was sometimes too light for the demanding role of aggrieved, over-the-top opera singer Carlotta, though she demonstrated good vocal potential with a promising range and facility. 

Notable for their energy and fervor were Jacqueline Remmel and Patrick Curley as opera impresarios Madame Firmin (usually portrayed by a man as Monsieur Firmin) and Monsieur André.  I particularly appreciated senior Mandy Heiser’s portrayal of Madame Giry, the staff-toting, sharp-tongued Ballet mistress of the opera house, as well as her put-upon daughter (and loyal friend of Christine) Meg,  nicely danced (en pointe!) and acted by senior Morgan Locke. 

Choreographers almost always astound me with their ability to make non-dancers look good – but in this case Sara Cuddle’s facility with both the skilled Corps-de-Ballet and ensemble was remarkable – both groups excelling at their tasks.  Aaron Juni’s costumes were lustrous and authentic, whether denoting the comic ludicrousness of the French opera-comique singer or the elegant evening wear of the opera-goer.   Set designer Stephen Wathen always produces top-notch work, on a limited budget; this show is no exception. 

It is unfortunate that many modern-day theaters are designed without an orchestra pit, forcing the orchestra backstage, offstage or worse – no orchestra at all.  The backstage orchestra, conducted by Joseph Reichert, was well-rehearsed and supported the singers well, though often almost inaudible in the audience.   

Kudos to  the students, staff, and parents of Presentation High School – and especially, to director Jim Houle, for their courage, tenacity, and perseverance in presenting The Phantom of the Opera.  An ambitious endeavor…clearly, one that will stay in the hearts and minds of these talented young people as they venture into the future – theatrical or otherwise.

Newark Memorial sounds its musical return with Grease


Creating meaningful, engaging, and fulfilling theatre at the high school level is not an easy task, even if you have a long-standing, well-funded and passionately supported program. So when your school’s theatre is in the throes of a “rebuilding phase”, sometimes it is a victory when you merely get enough student interest to mount a production. For the students and staff of Newark Memorial High School, their success goes far beyond just showing up.

Playing to a young, rowdy, and appreciative crowd (if not a bit ignorant about the rules against camera use), the cast of Grease took the stage last night in a sort of revival party for the school’s theatre program. After having several teachers at the helm of the program, including a long tenured faculty member who has since retired, the school’s theatre department finds itself in the capable hands of its drama club. Grease marks a return to musical theatre after a two-year hiatus, and also hails the dawning of a new era for theatre at the school.

Taking charge of the show with all of its 1950’s fun and kitsch is Jim Burris, a director with the challenge of creating a production where there were only six remaining students from the days where NMHS last did a musical. “It is a green bunch, but it has been really good. We have had our challenges, but that is to be expected”, the beaming director said as he looked over the steadily filling house just before curtain. He also mentioned how proud he was of the 44 member cast and nearly all-student orchestra, under the direction of Blair Barrett. His pride is very well placed as the cast and crew first took the stage (or rather the house) with an intense energy and an infectious spirit.

Right out of the blocks, the audience fell in love with the wide-eyed and quirky character of Jan (Justina Castillo) whose comedic timing and facial expressions played all the way to the back row of the theater where we sat. Also memorable from the get-go was Frenchy (Kaitlin Cummings) who always managed to get our attention with her bright smile, big energy, and full-investment in every moment. Cummings and Castillo are actually quite representative of a cast which gave their all, relentlessly charming the crowd with their enthusiasm. A well-used walkabout around the orchestra pit and into the audience upped the ante and put the energetic cast right in our laps, but made for some microphone issues with actors being in front of the main speakers.

In the role of Patty Simcox, Suleima Ochoa is relentless in her vigor, making her easy to love and hard to ignore whenever she is on-stage. Her moments with Danny Zuko (Patrick Francis Vital) were pure fun as she tried to lure him into her world of jocks, pep-rallies, and study-dates. For Vital’s Zuko, his focus was on the unassuming yet engaging presence of Sandy Dumbrowski (Maia Rodriguez). While this production rides high on its use of an unedited script (again, thank you to a staff for not glossing-over the fact that such subject matter does exist in high school life), Rodriguez and Vital take a more demure approach to Danny and Sandy, departing from the cartoonish antics of Travolta and Newton-John in the film. The result is a more relatable couple which was well-received by the opening night crowd.

With such a large cast and so many ensemble numbers, a show like Grease could easily become an exercise in herding cats, so to speak. But under the guidance of choreographer Jennifer Gorgulho, the cast stays unified in the large musical numbers and gives their all to make the more treasured moments of the show’s book come to life. In fact, it was the “new” moments where the stage show differs from the film which seemed to catch the crowd by surprise.

Songs like “Freddy My Love” (sung by the very natural and enjoyable Adrienne Hill as Marty) had the audience taking a fresh look at an old-standard of high school theatre. Also noteworthy was the wonderful vocal work of Brennen Meier as a featured soloist and as the Teen Angel (a role made famous by Frankie Avalon), the high-octane moves of Valeria Gonzalez as Cha Cha DeGregorio, and Amelia Loredo’s honest and grounded portrayal of Rizzo.

Overall, this production thrives in the high school setting for its brash honesty and unedited presentation. While this may make the show not safe for younger audiences, it speaks to a crowd who is essentially looking at a version of themselves, just removed by six decades. It is a promising glimpse of a young department which will only continue to grow. Thanks to the help of boosters, parents and local businesses (like Golden State Lumber who made a sizable donation), the students of the NMHS Drama Club have made a great return to the musical stage. It will be great to see where this group goes over the next few years.


Newark Memorial High School – Grease
November 11, 12, 18, 19 @ 8:00PM
November 13, 20 @ 2:30PM
Tickets - $15 adult/general. $10 students/seniors.

Director Kim Saunders reveals the magic of Maskerade

 
In another one of our behind-the-scenes pieces, we get a sneak peak at Wilcox's Maskerade, a bit of fun from across the pond under the direction of Kim Saunders (also part of the Mystery Of Edwin Drood staff from last year).

Paul Sawyer: This is a totally new show to me, so it's probably new to a lot of people. Tell us about the world of Maskerade.
Kim Saunders: I first came across Terry Pratchett’s Discworld when I was searching for a show to direct here in 2006. I was looking for a show that allowed for a large ensemble cast. I found several of Mr. Pratchett’s novels had been adapted by Stephen Briggs for the stage and fell in love with one called Wyrd Sisters. This play borrowed from Mr. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” but with over the top humor that had me laughing from beginning to end. I am happy to come back to Discworld and bring Mr. Pratchett’s comic take on “Phantom of the Opera” to the stage. This show pokes fun at opera as well as the Broadway musical! While knowing a bit about Discworld, opera or musicals will help with some of the “in jokes” the characters and story stand on their own. As Sir. Pratchett says: There are no maps of Discworld!, You can't map a sense of humor. "He is author of more than 20 books . His style is something akin to what would happen if Monty Python redid Lord of the Rings for a group of highly educated people. Sort of. He's hard to describe."-Wikipedia-

PS: What has the process been like in getting this show up on it's feet? What is your vision for the show?
KS: When I did Wyrd Sisters we had just moved into our new performing arts center and were still exploring everything it could do! In order to utilize many of the lights, sound and other nifty things, I added the concept of poking fun at community theatre like: props falling apart, lights that went wrong, sound cues missed! I have continued that concept with this show and the silliness continues!

PS: You have been working with Wilcox High School for awhile now. What has it been like seeing your students mature and grow through the years? Any great success stories?
KS: Last year when I directed Midsummer, ala Steam punk. I was amazed at the amount of alumni who came back and wanted to help on the project! My heart swelled at how many students have continued in the arts and that I was a part of there finding their voice. That continues with this show. I have an assistant who has graduated from UC Davis working with me. 3 recent graduates of Wilcox are now in a Conservatory program and have been helping as well.  Add to that a mentor who has come back to help with lights and I feel very supported by these students, many who I can now call friends!

PS: It is a Friday night, and I have nothing to do. Tell me why I should go see a high school theatre production if I am not directly involved or connected to it.
KS: Several reasons:
1. The over the top humor and sheer silliness will make for a fun evening.
2. Terry Pratchett's works are not often brought to life on the stage especially in the United States, as he is a British author. 
3. To support this drama department and help keep the arts thriving in this community.

Well put.

Wilcox High School presents Maskerade
Mission City Center for the Performing Arts - Wilcox High School
3250 Monroe St., Santa Clara, CA, 95051
November 10, 17, 18, 19 @ 7pm
Tickets at the door: Students $6, General $10, Matinee $5

 

Videos for "A Day in the Life of a High School Theatre"‏

"You have no idea how many hours we put in."
"This job comes with an understanding that there will be a lot of overtime."
"You have to be a born multitasker."

Hey HS Theatre teachers! Ever wish the world knew the amount of time, energy, passion, dedication, talent, commitment and heart went into the work you, your students, and volunteers do? Ever wish you could show people the behind the scenes view of what it REALLY takes to make a theatre arts department operate? Here is your chance...

THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE SPOTLIGHT is now accepting submissions of videos which chronicle "A Day in the Life of a High School Theatre". We want to see:

-People working hard at their craft
-The power of collaboration between students
-The hours it takes to do what theatrical artisans do (teachers showing up at 7am for prep, leaving at 11pm after a performance, etc.)
-The kind of curriculum being taught in the classroom, on the stage, and in the booth
-The hard work happening at rehearsals
-The FUN and SPIRIT of doing theatre!

And now, the fine print about submissions:
-Submissions must be completed by December 1, 2011, but will be accepted as early as October 31, 2011. The sooner you submit, the sooner you get posted!
-To submit a video, please post it on YouTube and email the link to PR_Sawyer@hotmail.com. It will then be posted to www.HighSchoolTheatreSpotlight.com
-Please keep running length between 90 and 150 seconds.
-Please include a beginning title screen which states 1) "A Day in the Life of (insert school's name) Theatre" AND 2) "Presented by The High School Theatre Spotlight"
-Please include brief production credits at the end.
-Don't sweat the production values too much, but make sure the video and audio are at least clear.
-Please, NO multiple submissions.
-Feel free to use music, visuals, etc.

Have fun, be creative, and show the world the kind of work you all do in YOUR departments! Get shooting!

Pirates Roar Ashore at Valley Christian

Dillon Mena as The Pirate King
The true test of any musical in its quest for popularity is staying-power. Can it remain relevant enough through the years that people will want to produce it, view it, and will still enjoy it? Unfortunately, some shows fall out of grace for one reason or another and begin to fade away from the stage. Shows like South Pacific and even Chess have seen a decline in productions, even with memorable songs and great casting possibilities. With that in mind, it is incredible to see a theatrical piece from 1879 which still manages to connect to an audience and remain fresh and humorous.

Digging into the tomes of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, Valley Christian has unearthed sunken treasure with their production of The Pirates Of Penzance. Director Matthew DeMeritt is no stranger to the show, having mounted it before with a group of 8-15 year olds, “co-directing it with a certain young lady who would later become my wife”. DeMeritt’s familiarity with the piece showed with confident and fun staging, well developed characters, and fine-tuned comedic direction and execution by a dynamic and animated cast.

Leading the charge onto the beach from the first moment of the show is young Frederick (Eddie Barsoumian), a boy apprenticed to a band of pirates until his twenty-first birthday. Barsoumian’s voice is wonderful to be sure, but it was his patient and natural delivery of the stylized dialogue which really stood out. His words have meaning and were never idly thrown away, and the audience was with him in every beat. Moments between Barsoumian and past-her-prime ship-maid Ruth (Melina Rapazzini) were sheer delight with both actors showing mature patience in the midst of quick paced comedic moments. In fact, one of the greatest assets this production has is its mindful approach to comedy.

Comedy cannot be over thought, over prepared, or over emphasized, or else you will be left with self-insisting delivery which will just fall flat. The cast of Pirates is incredibly natural with its humor, letting the joke be what it will be and not pushing it too far. In the role of The Pirate King, Dillon Mena shows incredible chops for comedy, hitting the bulls-eye repeatedly with his timing and incredible range of facial takes. His character is delightfully cartoonish, but never strays past the fine line between entertaining and overdone. Matching him beat for beat is Daniel Krum as Major General Stanley, who aged exceptionally well into the role. Krum’s “orphan boy” delivery had the audience rolling in the aisles (in one case almost literally as I would swear I saw someone fall out of their seat in laughter). The dynamic between Mena and Krum is not to be missed.

Petersen and  Barsoumian
Aside from comedic prowess, the entire cast shows phenomenal vocal skill, showcasing the voices of Michael White as Samuel, Abby McLachlan as Edith and Alexis Garrett as Kate. White stands out for his lilting lyric baritone (hope to see more of him in larger roles), while McLachlan and Garrett are simply hilarious as the de-facto leaders of Major General Stanley’s daughters. But the true showcase vocal role of the show is that of Mabel, played by Danielle Petersen. There are very few words which can properly illustrate the talent of this performer. Pitch perfect, flawless tone, and the kind of power that does not need a microphone. I even mentioned to DeMeritt at intermission that if I wasn’t sure she was a high school student, he could have easily convinced me that she was on loan from a major opera house. And yet again, the vocal prowess was tied together with a strong sense of comic timing, not to mention impressive physical character work.

What really seals the deal for this production is the energy investment across the entire cast. It does not matter how much the entire company of actors is giving if one person is falling short. That does not happen here. From curtain up to curtain down, the entire cast is on full-blast, filling the house to the brim with everything they have. It is an incredible sight to see the audience latch on to their energy. Particularly noteworthy was the Monty Python-esque work of Sean Leone as the Sergeant of Police and his entire band of Policemen with their intensely physical staging which surely must be an endurance trial throughout the show.

The cast, crew, production team and faculty should be very proud of the work they have done. It is an ambitious show choice, but the talent, passion and energy is there to back it up. The sets, lighting and costumes were beautifully done, and two-man pit was tight and effective (if not a bit sterile being only a two-man pit). In the end, my only real gripe about what I saw in the Valley Christian theatre last night was the numerous cell-phone and camera incidents during the performance. When will people learn?! Thankfully, the spirit coming from the stage easily overshadowed any audience misbehavior which made for a fantastic performance, and a wonderful evening. Be sure to head over and see it sooner rather than later as seats will be hard to come by now that the word is out.


Valley Christian High School – The Pirate Of Penzance
October 13, 14, 15, 20, 22 @ 7:30PM
October 22 @ 2:00PM
Tickets - $15 adult/general. $13 students/seniors. $11 children
Tickets at the door, or at http://www.vctheatre.net/box_office/

Preparing For The Audition - A How To Guide

Most performers can speak volumes about the stress of an audition. Preparing songs/monologues, typing up and printing your resume, getting headshots, and the general stress of the audition call itself. Ever want to know what the director is thinking or what they are really looking for? Ever wonder what you should wear, how to pick the right audition piece or what to put on your resume? Take a look.

Preparing For The Audition
Posted on GoogleDocs

The Do's and Don'ts for High School Theatre Audiences

With Fall shows hitting stages soon, this repost is more applicable than ever. Being involved in HS theatre is not just about creating art, it is also about learning to be a proper appreciator of it as well.


DO arrive on time. Theaters do their best to start on time, so the least you can do is be there to experience the whole story. Getting there early allows you to sit, get settled, hear the preshow music, read the directors notes, and get into the world of the show. You will feel so much more into the piece that way.
DON'T waltz in twenty minutes late. If you have missed that much, just try and get your tickets exchanged for another night. You won't appreciate the piece nearly as much and will just be a distraction to audience members and performers as you enter during the show.

DO turn your cell phone completely off before curtain, and before coming back from intermission.
DON'T think that turning your cell phone just to "silent" or to a no-transmit or "airplane mode" is good enough. On silent, cellphones still emit and receive signals which greatly interfere with wireless microphone systems used by actors and technicians. Even if you turn off your signal, the bright light from your screen within a darkened theater is yet another major visual distraction for audience and actors alike. So, just turn it off.

DO buy DVD's or photo books of the production if you liked it and if they are for sale (hopefully through a special arrangement with the publishing company).
DON'T take photos, flash photos, or video of shows unless you are granted permission by the director/producer. First off, it is a violation of copyright laws as the producers pay royalties to put on the show. Second, flash photography is (again) distracting, and just plain dangerous. No one wants to see an actor get blinded and fall off the stage into the orchestra pit. And third, there is the combo no-no of cell phone video. That is the "bad audience member trifecta": cell phone + light up screen + illegal video.

DO stay for the whole performance!
DON'T walk out at intermission. You never know what is coming next! The second act is usually more story based since all the clumsy business of introducing the characters and setting up the story is taken care of in the first act. Plus, even if you know the story, you probably have no idea how it is staged, so don't walk out and miss all the cool stuff yet to happen. Also, you already paid for your ticket... you might as well see how it all comes out.

DO applaud, cheer, laugh, cry, and react in general. The amazing beauty of theatre is that it is live! No matter how amazing you think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two is, all of your screaming won't make Daniel Radcliffe give even more effort to impress you. Live actors feed off the audience. It is instant feedback into how the performance is going. If you love it, show it! Nothing weirder than not hearing applause after a song, especially if the performer actually did a good job. Remember, the live audience is part of theatre!
DON'T be an "inappropriate" audience member. For example: yelling out your friends name, talking during the performance, eating in the theater (especially if the food is "noisy" like chips), going "eww" if characters kiss (get over it), mocking the performance or doing anything that would generally result in a smack upside the back of your head by your sweet little grandma.

DO be appreciative of the insane amount of hours it takes to put up a high school theatrical production. Let's do the math. An actor spends an average of three hours a night, five nights a week, for at least eight weeks at rehearsal. Tack on another hour everyday for memorizing and running lines. Add another five hours to every night during tech week, plus at least thirty hours for costumes, makeup, hair, publicity, set building, painting, lighting, sound, sit-and-sing with the orchestra and so on and so forth. That is 276 hours of work, not counting auditions or callbacks. That is almost like a full time job on top of school work and everything else in life!

Winds Of Change Can Change Back

From Billy Houck at Fremont High School. Thank you for sending this in. Being a Midwesterner myself, I am sad to see the devastation of Joplin High School's theatre on many levels. Bravo to the Fremont High School community for doing this.


The Drama Department at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale was all set to wind up the school year with a festival of student-written plays. The plays were all written, put into rehearsal, and it was looking like a great start to what was hoped would become an annual event.

Then a request went out from Joplin High School in Joplin, Missouri. The tornadoes that had spread a path of destruction through the city had completely destroyed most of the campus, including the entire theatre building with all their equipment and supplies. A fund was set up through the International Thespian society to help the Drama Department to rebuild.

Fremont Theatre teacher Billy Houck saw the opportunity to help as an obvious choice: “When I saw the pictures of the destruction in Joplin, including a picture of a student standing in the middle of the rubble of what used to be the theatre, I knew what we had to do. Joplin High school is a big, old-fashioned high school building, with a large theatre, just like Fremont…or it used to be. Most Drama Departments exist on very small budgets, building up a stock of costumes, props, sets and lights over years. It would be devastating to loose it all at once like that. So our celebration of student writing has become a fundraiser for our fellow Thespians in Joplin.”

The New Play Festival will be presented one night only on Monday, June 6 at 7:30 pm in the Shannon Theatre on the campus of Fremont High School at the corner of Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road and Fremont Avenue in Sunnyvale.
All seats are $5.

For further information, contact billyhouck@yahoo.com

Shot from Drood

Great to see so many enthusiastic students working with such great artists like Kim Saunders and Diana Torres Koss (Back row L to R). Heard great things about this production.

Greasers meet gamma rays in Fremont's Zombie Prom

Act One: Get your hero up a tree.
Act Two: Throw rocks at him.
Act Three: Get him down again.

            -Alan Alda quoting George Abbott
            “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed”

The playwright’s simplest structural formula is not difficult. Its easy to plug in whatever elements you need into this basic idea and create a great dramatic work. Let’s do the math:

(Hero = Billy Crocker, Tree = A Boat, Rocks = Forbidden Love) = Anything Goes

(Hero = Carnelle Scott, Tree = Beauty Pageant, Rocks = People’s Opinions) = The Miss Firecracker Contest

(Hero = Remy, Tree = A French Restaurant, Rocks = Identity Crisis) = Ratatouille

Plug in James Dean-esque rebel, a 1950’s high school, and the hero turning into a radioactive zombie, and you have the formula for Zombie Prom. Fremont High School has tackled this fun Off-Broadway work and created a production which is just the ticket for a late spring musical at any high school. The show pulls heavily from 1950’s zombie films most notably 1955’s Creature With The Atom Brain (right), as well as such poodle-skirted musical theatre classics as Grease and Bye, Bye, Birdie. It is a fun mix, and a very entertaining juxtaposition of genres from the era.

In the lovelorn leading lady role of Toffee, Rain Scott’s voice rings out loud and strong, voicing at first her youthful enthusiasm, then utter heartbreak at the death of her beloved rebel Jonny Warner (Kristofer Misch), then her incredulous reaction to her callous classmates who implore her to move on and find a date for the prom. Scott’s work is particularly memorable in the retelling of Jonny’s death during “Jonny Don’t Go”, as she is flanked by a girl-group quartet (Jennifer Morris, Endrie Yanogacio, Susana Alvarez and Savanna Kiene) in an obvious ode to The Shirelles. Morris is a perfect character compliment to Scott, playing the comically vapid deadpan to hilarious effect.

Misch’s “Rebel without an ‘H’” (an obvious James Dean reference) hits much stronger after his suicide at the nuclear power plant when he returns, crawling out from Toffee’s locker and stretching his pipes in “Blast From The Past”. He is not alone, being backed up by his own male quartet (Joe Kaho, Jazz Legaspi, Stefan Vargo, and Trevor Snow) who show impressive harmonizing skills throughout the show.

Kristofer Misch and Rain Scott
The vocal skills of the entire cast sell this show from top to bottom. Under the musical direction of Joe Howard, the students create striking aural texture within the score which mixes the classic sounds of the period with some more modern musical savvy. It is a great sounding show, which is paired beautifully with costumes by Lauren Kurtz, Hillary Manning and Willa Snow. (Additional note: great to see so many students as active members of the International Thespian Society.)

When asked about a high school program performing a piece where the characters are high schoolers themselves, director Billy Houck stated that it added to the honesty of the show. “The kids had no problem buying into the dynamic of an oppressive regime with unreasonable rules”, a theme used by the administration in the show’s “Enrico Fermi High” to keep the zombie Jonny from returning to school. It is this honesty about the social roles they play in this cartoonish land, and their reactions to authority and young love which help make a somewhat fluffy script fun for the audience.

Zombie Prom is a curious show, from its title to its mix of 1950’s cultural fads. It is also an enjoyable show and the perfect preamble to a chocolate malt at the drive-in on these newly arrived warm nights.

Fremont High School presents Zombie Prom.
FHS Shannon Theatre
1279 Sunnyvale Saratoga Road
Sunnyvale, CA 94087-2593
May 6, 7 at 7:30pm
May 8 at 2:30pm
Tickets: $10 at the door

The "Mystery" Behind Wilcox's "Drood"

Tech week for a high school theatre director is a time where you can almost feel your hair getting more gray by the second. But, in this midst of the insanity, Diana Torres Koss, director of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood at Wilcox High School found the time to shed some light on this often overlooked piece.

Paul Sawyer: High Schools are infamous for having the habit of picking "standard" or "safe" material. Picking "Drood" is a definite departure from that. Why "Drood"?
Diana Torres Koss: When the producer, Dani Salzer, contacted me about coming on board to direct a show at Wilcox, she suggested a couple plays/musicals, and "Drood" was one of the shows suggested on her list.  I immediately thought, "Aha! Of COURSE!" As much as I love and respect many of the theatre "chestnuts" produced by local high schools, I didn't want to churn out another "Our Town" or "Grease". "Drood" excited me as a show that is not only seldom produced at ALL by local theatres, but also seldom produced at the high school level.  I was in a production of Drood a long time ago (it was probably my first TheatreWorks show ever) and it was such an incredible, thrilling experience for me.  I had so much fun interacting with the audience and I remember there was a terribly competitive atmosphere among us "suspects" - we all wanted to be the Murderer and did our best to work the crowd for votes! I also felt that the melodramatic and metatheatrical nature of the piece along with the multiple plot endings would be an intriguing challenge for the actors. 
 
PS:Were there any challenges to getting the students on board with this obscure piece?
DTK: One of the problems with doing a musical that is not very well-known is getting students to audition in the first place.  I think many of the actors at this high school who had been in the previously produced show (A Midsummer Night's Dream) were intimidated by what they heard on the Broadway recording and thought the show required "legitimate"-sounding voices.  (Some of the kids even told me, "I don't sing opera".)  Once the show had been picked, I also had to get the designers and crew enthused about the show by describing the music hall setting and the multiple endings based on the audience votes.  

PS: What is the "thought" of the piece?
DTK: What if a performing troupe of actors put on a play of a story by Charles Dickens that didn't have an ending, because he died before he finished it?  What if the audience could create a new ending each night by means of a simple vote?  Who killed Edwin Drood? and why?

PS: Tell me about your concept for the show.
DTK: My concept was my biggest challenge: to transform ordinary high school actors into a British music hall performing troupe.  It's a terrific unifying/bonding experience for them.  They are learning how to be flexible and also how to depend upon themselves and each other as performers.  When the murderer is announced towards the end of the show, only two people know ahead of time just who the murderer is going to be, based on the audience votes.  Even the murderer doesn't find out until the exact moment of truth onstage!

PS: If you had one reason for someone to come see this production, what would it be?
DTK: The best reason to come see the show:  It's a different show each night!  At each performance, the audience votes on who they think the murderer is, but no one knows for sure who's been picked until confession time.  So you could come to all five shows and see five completely different endings. 

Wilcox High School presents The Mystery Of Edwin Drood 
Mission City Center for the Performing Arts - Wilcox High School
3250 Monroe St., Santa Clara, CA, 95051
May 5, 6, 13, 14 at 7:00pm
May 12 at 3:00pm
Tickets at the door: Students $6, General $10, Matinee $5
 
 

San Lorenzo Valley students tackle 10 minute play festival

Opening next week at San Lorenzo Valley High School is a series of student directed/acted ten-minute plays. Today, I had the pleasure of a little online chat with student director Louis “Joey” Kruse about the whole project, his own piece, and the program’s drive to encourage young directors in their craft.
  
Louis "Joey" Kruse
Paul Sawyer: So tell me about the entire project.
Louis “Joey” Kruse: Well SLVHS has always been very supportive of students who want to direct, however they realized this year that many students may not know how to direct who have an interest. So this year the Drama Boosters decided to have several different directors choose one ten minute play so that the student directed shows can continue to be a part of the SLVHS Drama Year

PS: How many pieces are part of this project?
LJK: There are six, my show "The Choice" "Death Knocks" directed by John Wasielweski, "Pepperoni Apocalypse" by Cassie Beasley, "Blind Date" by Cassandra Stipes, " Easy Credit" by Kayla Staats and "Commander Danny" by Carina Swanberg 

PS: Tell me about your own play. What is the "thought" of the piece?
LJK: Well "The Choice" is a play by British playwright Alex Broun. It is the story of Vince who is falling back into his narcotic addiction, while his best friend Ronnie has flown in to help him see that he has a choice. I chose this piece because it struck me as a real issue in the world that isn’t talked about while going over the broader picture. We all have a choice; who we are friends with, what we put in our bodies, what toothpaste we use… We all have those choices to make, but it's how we let those choices effect us that make us who we are

PS: What has it been like to work with and direct your peers?
LJK: It has been quite an adventure. After being assistant director for SLVHS' Fahrenheit 451 in the fall, I was a little nervous to be directing things on my own, without anyone to help me. But my two actors Peter Horton and Dominique Berritto have been so amazing, always on task (not kidding) always asking questions that make the show grow and evolve, making character choices that amaze me and send chills through me when I watch them. And Jenny Paolini though only have a small bit towards the end of "The Choice" as Vince's daughter, has been wonderful, understanding of the fact she wouldn't work til towards the end of a rehearsal, being fully committed to the show. I have been blessed to work with my amazing first cast

PS: It sounds like you have made a really strong connection to your actors. That is fantastic. It may be the nonsequitor of its title that caught my eye, but can you tell me about "Pepperoni Apocalypse"?
LJK: It’s a story about cultists who believe that the end of the world is near. When the pizza man arrives they believe that the pizza box (a Pandora's box as it were) Holds the end of the world and they will do whatever it takes to get it, including sacrificing one of their own

PS: Wow. Now that is the kind of fun you hope to get in a one-act/ten minute play festival. Sounds like you guys have really latched on to your material. And finally, if you had one reason why people should come and see this festival, what would it be?
LJK: To support local theatre. The directors of these shows have put a lot of work in the last month of rehearsing into getting the actors and the shows together. It has been an amazing experience and I think all who come to see it will be amazed at what students are really capable of making 

PS: Broadway's talent of tomorrow on display today. Break legs to all of your actors, and best of luck to you and your fellow directors!

San Lorenzo Valley High School presents
New Voices: Student Directed Ten-Minute Plays
San Lorenzo Valley High School Performing Arts Center
7105 HWY 9, Felton, CA 95018
April 21-23, 7pm
April 28-30, 7pm
May 1, 2pm
Tickets at the door, General $10, Students/Seniors $8
April 28 tickets for ASB/Community Night - $7

Arts Funding - "A Return On Your Investment"

The discourse on funding for the arts has been around for a long time, but now there is a real push to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget. Thankfully, Kevin Spacey is leading the public charge to head off this movement.

 

Here is the video from Spacey's Kennedy Center lecture.



This is not a new issue, but the threat seems stronger this time than ever before. As arts educators, we see the benefits of the arts in our classrooms everyday. It isn't just for those who are looking to become artists, or those working to hone their craft. The arts show who we are as a people and as a society, but they also show who we are as individuals. The arts exist to recreate human existence in all of its facets. The cold hard facts on the benefits of arts education are undeniable.

You can help by contacting your congressman, and of course by supporting the arts in your community. Stand up for the arts by taking your seat and seeing the amazing creations in your very own town.

The Do's and Don'ts for High School Theatre Audiences

DO arrive on time. Theaters do their best to start on time, so the least you can do is be there to experience the whole story. Getting there early allows you to sit, get settled, hear the preshow music, read the directors notes, and get into the world of the show. You will feel so much more into the piece that way.
DON'T waltz in twenty minutes late. If you have missed that much, just try and get your tickets exchanged for another night. You won't appreciate the piece nearly as much and will just be a distraction to audience members and performers as you enter during the show.

DO turn your cell phone completely off before curtain, and before coming back from intermission.
DON'T think that turning your cell phone just to "silent" or to a no-transmit or "airplane mode" is good enough. On silent, cellphones still emit and receive signals which greatly interfere with wireless microphone systems used by actors and technicians. Even if you turn off your signal, the bright light from your screen within a darkened theater is yet another major visual distraction for audience and actors alike. So, just turn it off.

DO buy DVD's or photo books of the production if you liked it and if they are for sale (hopefully through a special arrangement with the publishing company).
DON'T take photos, flash photos, or video of shows unless you are granted permission by the director/producer. First off, it is a violation of copyright laws as the producers pay royalties to put on the show. Second, flash photography is (again) distracting, and just plain dangerous. No one wants to see an actor get blinded and fall off the stage into the orchestra pit. And third, there is the combo no-no of cell phone video. That is the "bad audience member trifecta": cell phone + light up screen + illegal video.

DO stay for the whole performance!
DON'T walk out at intermission. You never know what is coming next! The second act is usually more story based since all the clumsy business of introducing the characters and setting up the story is taken care of in the first act. Plus, even if you know the story, you probably have no idea how it is staged, so don't walk out and miss all the cool stuff yet to happen. Also, you already paid for your ticket... you might as well see how it all comes out.

DO applaud, cheer, laugh, cry, and react in general. The amazing beauty of theatre is that it is live! No matter how amazing you think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two is, all of your screaming won't make Daniel Radcliffe give even more effort to impress you. Live actors feed off the audience. It is instant feedback into how the performance is going. If you love it, show it! Nothing weirder than not hearing applause after a song, especially if the performer actually did a good job. Remember, the live audience is part of theatre!
DON'T be an "inappropriate" audience member. For example: yelling out your friends name, talking during the performance, eating in the theater (especially if the food is "noisy" like chips), going "eww" if characters kiss (get over it), mocking the performance or doing anything that would generally result in a smack upside the back of your head by your sweet little grandma.

DO be appreciative of the insane amount of hours it takes to put up a high school theatrical production. Let's do the math. An actor spends an average of three hours a night, five nights a week, for at least eight weeks at rehearsal. Tack on another hour everyday for memorizing and running lines. Add another five hours to every night during tech week, plus at least thirty hours for costumes, makeup, hair, publicity, set building, painting, lighting, sound, sit-and-sing with the orchestra and so on and so forth. That is 276 hours of work, not counting auditions or callbacks. That is almost like a full time job on top of school work and everything else in life!

Strong ensemble cast shines in Leland's Spelling Bee

en·dear·ing [en-deer-ing]

1. tending to make dear or beloved.
2. manifesting or evoking affection: an endearing smile.

Some shows ride high on a large powerful chorus, some get their strength from a romantic duo which steals the very breath of the audience, and some rely on grand spectacle to keep the crowd in rapt attention. For Leland High School’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the strength of the show is a pure connection to their audience which gives them in return a heartfelt sense of endearment for the characters and all of their peculiar vulnerabilities.

Drawing on every third grader’s greatest fear of putting a test of one’s intellect on display, (this author can recall the harrowing experience of having to spell “refrigerator” in front of his class), Spelling Bee is an ensemble piece taking snapshots of the characters’ lives through the intelligent use of “stream-of-consciousness” vignettes. Within them, we see life through the eyes of a child with two fathers, a child who doubts his own intelligence, another who is not allowed to cry, and one who wants nothing more than her parents love. The strength of this cast is its ensemble quality where every performer is part of an effectively cohesive whole. However, memorable moments abound in this fast-paced production.

The anchor of the show both in dramatic function and in stage poise is Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Erin Ortegon. The character acts as the moderator for the competition, and Ortegon fits seamlessly into the role which requires a strong presence while also yielding the stage to other characters whose dramatic journeys are not as far along. While Rona Lisa doesn’t have the most engaging arch to follow, Ortegon’s voice rings with confidence, pitch-perfect delivery, and maturity more befitting an actor ten years her senior.

Similarly impressive for her poise was Kailey Erickson as young Olive Ostrovsky. The role is particularly demanding vocally as well as dramatically, and Erickson delivers a touching performance highlighted by her amazingly connected rendition of “The I Love You Song”. Playing a pseudo-romantic foil to Ms. Erickson is William Morris Barfée (Joe Lee) who quite literally throws himself into the very physical role with every muscle in his arsenal. Lee also finds numerous comedic moments in his repartee with Vice Principal Panch (Michael Hwang) who has an impressive sense of comedic timing for a performer of any age. Laughs are not in short supply in this production, thanks in large part to the efforts of Leaf Coneybear (Andrew Roberts) whose disjointed and spastic delivery is pure shtick but is layered with a lovable innocence which is hard to ignore.

Indeed, there is talent across the entire cast, and a critic could name names and pontificate until his fingers fell off, but it really is the ensemble quality of the show which is the wonderful hook for this Spelling Bee. A timid audience was quickly sucked into the story and the fourth-wall obliterating presentation as staged by Elizabeth A. Taylor who commented on the fun and dedicated group of students who worked to put the show together. Also impressive is choreography by Lauren Bjorgan (a busy artist for sure having just seen her work in Cupertino’s Aida last week) and Christine Scadina which took these “awkward adolescents” and made them cover some expansive dance territory from kick-lines to ballet lifts.

The show’s entertainment factor is high, due in large part to the audience participation element made memorable by the 2005 Tony Award performance in which Reverend Al Sharpton graced the stage to attempt to spell “Dengue”. Preselected audience members are briefly coached, while actors focus on improvisation to create some fun moments. A young patron named Dylan easily stole the show on opening night by giving Ortegon and Hwang an incredulous glare after being asked to spell “cucumber”.

Leland’s Spelling Bee is a fun, touching, and unique glimpse into the fragile psyche of the young competitive student, and audiences are sure to grow as word spreads about this engaging production being performed in the heart of the Almaden Valley.

Leland High School – 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
April 1, 6, 7, 8  - 7pm
April 2, - 1:30pm Matinee
Tickets - $10.00 adult/general. $7.00 student. $5.00 w/ ASB card.
Tickets at the door, or you can call Leland in advance at 535-6290 to reserve a block of tickets.

Westmont goes for broke with Bay Area debut of Curtains

A very strong ensemble cast
We are a voyeuristic society. We like reality television. We read TMZ. We slow down to stare at fender benders. We follow stories of celebrity deaths as if they were our own family, especially if there are some juicy details. So, it is no surprise that a show about the on-stage murder of a musical theatre diva would be a great draw for today’s audiences. It is even less of a surprise when that show is performed by a profoundly talented cast, fully invested in the energy required to take a show from enjoyable, to unforgettable.

Taking the stage at Westmont High School’s brand-spanking-new theatre is the colorful and vibrant Kander and Ebb offering, Curtains. The late songwriting duo penned this penultimate piece in their musical catalogue as an ode to old murder mysteries, and the ebullient score they created makes for a fun romp around the backstage of a struggling pre-Broadway production in the late 1950’s. When the less-than-stellar star of Robbin’ Hood of the Old West is murdered during the curtain call, every member of the company is looked at as a suspect by Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Chris Halkovic), who takes the wit of Elliot Ness and crosses it with the bumbling and loveable “everyman” persona of Rob Petrie. Halkovic embodies the character, totally believable in more hardnosed moments yet equally charming in his hopeless descent into love for the leading lady’s understudy, Niki Harris (Briana Rapa).

Rapa is a textbook example of an actress who knows where her character is, and where it needs to go. Her words have meaning, and she knows how to use them to stunning effect. Combine this with strong dance chops, striking vocal talent, and a sweet, unassuming ingénue look and you have a package that could give Sutton Foster a run for her money.

The part of the piece that hooks the audience (beyond the homicidal intrigue) is the plethora of interwoven character relationships. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here.) Georgia Hendricks (Amy Spencer) and Aaron Fox (Nima Rakhshanifar) have a wonderful dynamic as a divorced composer/lyricist team with more on their minds than just the music. Hendricks truly shines, finding incredibly pure moments of connection in all facets during “Thinking Of Him”, and driving the Act I finale with Jane Powell-esque attitude and power. Rakhshanifar tugs at your heart strings as a man with regrets, showing off both his pipes and his skills on the piano during “I Miss The Music”.

Also very impressive was Rachel Graves as Carmen Bernstein who embodied the “I’ve seen it all” attitude of a producer to such amazing effect that you would swear she isn’t a high school student. Her take-no-prisoners mindset and mature voice in “It’s A Business” saved the number which was written two verses too long. Michaela Jose is also stunning as Bambi Bernét, performing more acrobatics in her choreography than can possibly be imagined while at the same time proving her triple-threat status with impressive character work and memorable vocals. Chris Thomas also shows off his remarkable dancing talent (not to mention boundless energy) as the show-within-a-show's actor/choreographer, Bobby Pepper.

The show never stops moving as clever and purposeful staging by director Jeff Bengford is matched by high-octane choreography by Barbara Kay. The final look is a show that never goes visually stale but it always rooted in furthering the plot and the characters. In fact, it is striking to see such a large cast utilized so well, and not just thrown on stage to increase participation in the program. Not one character seemed superfluous, as was proven by the addition of a chain-smoking costumer played by Stephanie Gudanets whose deadpan delivery as well as certain “ichthyological accoutrement” made for moments of outright hilarity.

It is refreshing to see a high school program that is not shy about doing a show that tastefully and effectively throws in more mature theatrical elements like sex and adult language while many others take the editing pen and black out larger and larger sections of scripts and scores, watering down brilliant writers whose only crime was writing something that actually reflects real life. That is not to say that high school directors should go out en masse and secure the rights to Glengarry Glen Ross, but great thanks are due to artists who respect the work of other artists and are always mindful that theatre is the art of recreating human existence. While this show is certainly not “edgy”, it is pleasantly realistic in its dialogue on backstage romances, casting couch blackmail, revenge, and the darker side of show business. That alone would be a box office draw. But it is a tremendously talented cast, a dedicated staff, and an entire team of dedicated parents and volunteers which make this show much more than what is inside its libretto.

Westmont High School presents Curtains
4805 Westmont Avenue
Campbell, CA 95008
March 31, April 1, 2 at 7:30pm
April 2 at 2:00pm
Advance Tickets at WestmontDrama.com - $12 adults, $8 students w/ASB
At the door - $15 adults, $10 students w/ASB

    Twitter Spotlight

    There was an error in this gadget

    Follow by Email