By Isabella Scopetski
[Courtesy of Isabella Scopetski]
Juniors, Miles Shapiro and Devin Wright [Courtesy of Isabella Scopetski]
Senior Olivia Graceffa and junior Ben Horsburgh [Courtesy of Isabella Scopetski]
“Despite the snow, the show must go on” was the motto of this years Arlington High School musical Wonderful Town directed by AHS drama teacher Michael Byrne. Although three snow days and an unusually early show date leaves the cast pressed for time, Wonderful Town is to be performed March 23rd, 24th, 25th. Tickets are to be sold at all three lunches, online (by cast members, and at the door).
Currently students are entering tech week of the show, somedays spending more than nine hours in the auditorium fine tuning their production and making art. The students patiently and cooperatively collaborate with each other and their director, Michael Byrne, to raise the show to its fullest potential.
The show takes place in Greenwich village, New York City during the 1930s. Wonderful Town is about two sisters who come to the city to follow their dreams, the girls originally hailing from Ohio. Byrne chose to direct Wonderful Town this spring because the music is by Lenard Bernstein, who would be celebrating his 100th birthday this year. Lenard Bernstein wrote West Side Story; a famous show which most people are familiar with. Byrne “like[s] the energy of the music” as it is similar to that of West Side Story and successfully “propels the story along”. Byrne mentions that “it is also a show that is driven by two interesting, strong women who don’t define themselves by a love interest”. Byrne seeks to introduce high school students to a show were woman (specifically Ruth and Eileen Sherwood) are able to define their worth by “who they are in the world and how they contribute to the world” rather than their worth being defined by a man.
For Byrne, the most rewarding part of any show is “having the privilege of asking students to step out of their comfort zones”. As a drama teacher at heart, Byrne enjoys watching his students succeed and thrive in the new situations they are put in. And it is the journey for Byrne, which makes directing worthwhile as he is able to, “see the transformation in these young people”.
Although Byrne has worked with adults and college students, it is the “enthusiasm” about high school students which has led him to continue teaching at the high school level. “ The energy that a high school student brings in is different than any other population [he’s] worked with”.
Undoubtedly, the most difficult part of the show for Byrne has been the snow, which robbed the cast of nearly three full days of rehearsals leading up to the show. However, he also added that he thought the difficult music presented it’s own challenge for the cast, on top of the time crunch, making the cast work doubly hard to be performance ready.
Despite the organic obstacles and setbacks directors and actors faced in the process, all would agree that it is their fellow cast members and colleagues which make such hard work worth it for them.
Junior Devin Wright, starring in the lead female role Eileen Sherwood, says the most rewarding part of the process was “to be able to work with actors like Olivia [as Ruth Sherwood] and Ben [as Bob Baker]”. Wright noted her co stars having lead roles since she was a freshman at AHS, and “being able to perform with them, singing songs with them [and] talking with them” has reassured Wright of her part in the show and that she worked hard to be a lead.
For freshman Franco D’Agostino and Junior John Fitzgerald, Wonderful Town is serving as their high school musical theater debut. Both D’Agostino and Fitzgerald act in a number of roles in the show depending on the scene, each having to make multiple costume changes between numbers such as the switch from Tour Guide to Police Officer, or Navy Seal Cadet to village ballet dancer.
Looking back on the process, as tech week commences, D’Agostino finds “being able to work with different people that [he] might not have known” has been the most rewarding part of the experience.
In an interview, Fitzgerald confessed that the show was easier to join, socially, than he had expected; being a junior in high school and new to performing. He appreciates how “everyone gets along very well” and how fun the show has been for him. Although he is not a lead, Fitzgerald enjoys the company and the many personas he is able to take on in each scene.
Admittedly, Fitzgerald’s confidence levels in past years had prevented him from auditioning, despite his inner passion for the theater. However, Fitzgerald currently finds the show to be rewarding in the sense that he was able to “learn a whole show” and “have it all come together” in the end.
And as many others struggle with, singing and dancing at the same time, as well as learning counts for dance numbers, has been one of the most challenging aspects of performing for Fitzgerald. A main takeaway of the show for Fitzgerald was “to be happy with who you are… [and] enjoy what you are doing”. For Fitzgerald, “it’s all about having fun”.
The Mechanics of a Well-Oiled Machine
The Arlington High School productions wouldn’t be the professional grade performances that many community members, parents, teachers, and fans have compared them to each year, without the dedicated students behind each aspect of the show. Wonderful Town relies heavily on its knowledgeable and well equipped team of student stage managers in order to run smoothly and seamlessly. Being stagehand for two years now has given Michael Graham-Greene increasing leadership opportunity and growth in his role. Stage managers attend every rehearsal of the entire process, seeing the show through from start to finish, sometimes spending longer hours with director Byrne than the cast, doing clerical work, managing props and the set. “Seeing the actors having fun on stage”, says Graham-Greene, “makes the harder days less difficult”.
And what would a Byrne production be without some dance? Since Wonderful Town includes large, dance heavy numbers such as “Swing”, “Conga”, and “Ballet at the Village Vortex”, Byrne was met with the challenge of choreographing. As a director, he chose to collaborate with student dancers Annie Schoonmaker, Aubrie-Mei Rubel, Megan Hall, and Katherine Hurley. Each dancer takes classes at their own studios and together they bring a wide range of knowledge to the process and each other. Choreographing the show was no small task, each number taking many rehearsals to teach and refine the dances. As a team, the girls found it helpful to be able to “bounce ideas off of eachother for different scenes”, as mentioned by Schoonmaker. The team agreed that being able to see their work performed by their peers and come to life was the most rewarding part of the process.
The students and adults involved in the show encourage the Arlington community to come out and support them this coming weekend and see the pay off from months of hard work!