Behind the scenes, before opening night

Behind the scenes, before opening night

schoolplaykids-webAt St. Mary’s School in Williamstown, students are hard at work rehearsing for this weekend’s debut of “Honk, Jr.” Dancing at right are Alexis Fingerhut (“Ida”) and Angelina Capone (“Maureen). To the left, in the ducks’ nest are baby ducks played by Rianna Evans, Erin Morris, Bobby Dees, Angela Sileo and the lead, Nicole Ragone (“Ugly). Behind the ducklings is Jenna Contrevo (“The Cat”).

WILLIAMSTOWN — Here at St. Mary School on Saturday afternoon, March 24, Erin Whittaker takes a second away from the actors, the lighting, and the music to express mild dissatisfaction with some individuals behind the scenes.

“Stage crew is not my friend!” the director shouts good-naturedly to the students responsible for set construction and deconstruction during scenes.

Many grammar schools perform plays every year. Parents and other relatives try to calm their children’s nerves ahead of time, take photos, enjoy the show (with fingers crossed that no one forgets their lines), and perhaps go out for ice cream afterward.

But what’s it like behind the scenes before opening night? When children are learning their lines, sets are designed and tired advisors and students are running through hours of rehearsal? And, in the end, is it worth all the effort?

At. St. Mary School, auditions took place at the beginning of December. The students knew their roles just before the start of Christmas break. This Saturday practice, though, was pivotal.

“Tech Day,” as it is known, is when students practice their spring play from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. The first full run-through of the show takes place, as the actors’ lines, cues, the stage lighting, the music, the dancing, and the sets all mesh into a cohesive unit, in time for this Friday’s premiere.

This year’s play is “Honk, Jr.,” a musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson tale of “The Ugly Duckling,” with music by George Stiles, and book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. The students voted for “Honk, Jr.” to be this year’s play (it beat out “The Little Mermaid”).

Knowing that they had a hand in this play, they “take more ownership, more pride,” the director said.

“It gives them a feeling of owning the production,” says Claire Whittaker, vice-principal of the school and Erin’s mother. On Tech Day, she helps a student direct the stage lighting.

“We’ve gotta run through the play a few times, go over dances and songs,” says Alexis Fingerhut, a 12-year-old seventh grader, who plays the role of “Ida,” the main character’s mother.

Tech Day, and the live performances are “really fun,” says Nicole Ragone, a 13-year-old eighth grader, who plays the lead role, “Ugly.” (Initially shunned by his peers for his different appearance, Ugly eventually turns into a beautiful swan.)

With cast and stage crew involving 92 students from grades 4-8, everyone is hard at work on Tech Day. While the students on stage perform their lines and practice choreographed dances, members of the stage crew are busy painting papier-mâché balloons to look like duck eggs, or carefully threading tree branches through carpet to create a nest.

“Honk, Jr.” is Whittaker’s third play as director. She previously oversaw “Willy Wonka” and “Alice in Wonderland, Jr.” In addition to Erin, Claire, and the cast and crew, others involved in the production of “Honk, Jr.” include eighth grader Nicole Mansor, stage manager; and teachers Tara Hughes (computers) and Lizzie Johnston (first grade).

Having been involved since its inception, Claire Whittaker sees the importance of having an outlet for the school’s creative students, who might want to pursue a different avenue than sports, or academic groups. The play “really helps them,” she said.

“Honk, Jr.” will be performed at St. Mary’s School in Williamstown, at Assumption Hall this Friday, March 30, and Saturday, March 31. Both shows start at 7:30 p.m., and refreshments are available at intermission. Tickets are $8 for adults, and $5 for children, and can be purchased by calling the school at 856-629-6190.

Categories: Catholic School News

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