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
 
 

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