Tuesday, January 28, 2014

High School Musicals


In our little corner of the universe, the boroughs of Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg are connected by a bridge. It’s really the same community, but the fact that we drive across a bridge does create a bit of a divide. There’s a football rivalry between the high schools, though since 2000 East Stroudsburg has had a second high school, North. After directing musicals at Stroudsburg from 1984-1990, I crossed the bridge to direct at East Stroudsburg High School. The building is the same, but the high school is now ESHS South.

High school musicals are great, largely because the kids are terrific. I’m sure nearly everyone who has ever been part of a high school show, whether as an actor, part of the stage or tech crew, or pit orchestra will confirm that it’s a unique and unforgettable experience. I have to qualify that with a “nearly” because sadly, there are kids who for one reason or another have to drop out of a show, or sometimes have to be told they can’t continue to participate. Mostly the reason for having to ask them to leave has to do with a poor attendance record at rehearsals. It’s a commitment. The cast is a team. The stage crew is a team. The tech crew is a team, especially at South, where an amazing man named Mike Silvoy trains our techs and makes magic happen for us on an annual basis. Need trees? Mike pulls out twenty. Need furniture? Try this. You get the idea.

There is a vast difference in a high school freshman and a high school senior. Four years in age between adults generally isn’t anything, but those years between fourteen and eighteen are a period of growth unlike any other in our lives. When we cast a show we try and include a fair number of freshmen. The year of seasoning means we have a stronger cast the following year. In a cast of forty we like to have eight to ten freshmen, if we have enough strong kids to make that happen. By the time our actors are seniors, if they’ve stuck with the show for all four years, they are definitely stagewise, seasoned performers. Not all of them have leading roles; but all the seniors are the backbone of the show, and they have a great time. We recognize them in the program, those remarkable young men and women who’ve survived four years of high school musicals.

They are indeed a team, and in some ways, they become a family. There’s a closeness that grows within the ranks unequaled, I think, in any sports team or school club they participate in. My feeling is this is largely because of the music. South kids have a very strong music program and a very fine vocal music program. They sing well. I think they sing better than the kids in any other school in our county. I’ll probably get my house egged for that comment, so I’ll apologize in advance. We think there’s something in the water in East Stroudsburg that provides us year after year with fine singers.

We’ve recently done some tough shows: PIPPIN, THE SECRET GARDEN, LES MISERABLES, CAROUSEL. This year we’re taking a break from seriousness and doing BYE BYE BIRDIE. It’s just plain fun. The kids are great and I think they are beginning to have a good time. We have about eight weeks left of rehearsal.
As we all do, the cast loves the applause during performance weekend. But they do it for much more than that. They do it because they love being together and performing. They learn to really care about each other, and that’s what makes our shows wonderful. A good high school musical is a happy experience. Sometimes an uplifting and moving experience as well.

A surprising number of our graduates have continued to study and sometimes perform professionally in musical theater and related fields, and to teach. Obviously the total of the efforts of the music faculty and the musical theater staff have had an impact on some of the South students. We heard some of these alumni very recently at our annual Fundraiser. That they are eager to come back and perform in this building says a great deal about what they experienced here.

We work hard for excellence in our shows. I think most of the time we come close. Sometimes we even nail it.