Behind the Scenes: Theatre Arts Prepares for Oz

Just two years ago, when Holy Family opened its new Performance Center, all eyes were focused on how the space would be used. Yes, the “black-box theater” with seating to stage left and stage right is an intimate space for special school Masses. It’s also a place worthy of student art shows, band and choral concerts and the all-school “Coffee House” talent nights. By all accounts, the Performance Center was off to a busy start.

But the ultimate dream for the new Performance Center was to inspire and invigorate Holy Family’s Theatre Arts program, giving students a place to perform, sing, dance, imagine and create.

Holy Family Theatre Director Eric Olson

“We want people to know this school is dedicated to the arts,” says Eric Olson, the school’s new theatre director who joined the faculty this year. “To create an amazing theatre arts program at Holy Family, we’re going to set the bar high so that kids from other schools will want to bring their talents here.”

Olson knew for his theater program to get off to a rousing start, it was time to inspire students to reach for the stars and make a bold theatrical statement. Just weeks after school began, Olson hung posters and got the message out in daily school announcements. Auditions were scheduled for Holy Family’s first production of the year—The Wizard of Oz! He chose the classic for a number of reasons.

  • Generations love this popular musical, and it is a story that draws big crowds.
  • It was one of the first movies Olson remembers as a child—“It was so magical and creative to escape to the Land of Oz!”
  • It sets the expectations high and requires lots of student participation to make it all happen.

Olson didn’t have to wait long for the buzz and excitement to kick in.

“Within the first week, students were pounding on my door,” he shares. “So many wonderfully talented kids came out and wanted to be part of it from many aspects—lighting, sound, costuming, singing and acting. As a director, I can’t ask for anything better.”

Fueled By Passion

It takes more than one director with a vision and the passion to make it all happen. Olson’s challenge was to get everyone collectively excited, particularly in a high school with fewer than 500 students.

He relied on his experience, letting the students know he was ready to embark on something big. Something similar to what he did with his own K-12 theater company that produced 34 shows in nine years.

Gigi Shannon and Director Eric Olson work on a scene.

“I had to talk to the students and convince them to give me a shot,” Olson said.

 

And that they did. From day one, he has received rave reviews from both cast and crew.

“Mr. Olson gives really good instruction on acting and you know exactly what his vision is,” says senior actor Giselle Shannon, who performed in her first show as a freshman and is finishing with the coveted role of the Wicked Witch of the West. “He has a vision for what he wants and conveys it effectively, even during auditions.”

The excitement for this new level of Holy Family theater doesn’t just come from the actors under the lights or those who have seen the program evolve over the years.

Freshman Collin Nawrocki raised his hand to help with sound, something he was familiar with and interested in. It didn’t take long for him to step beyond his comfort zone, taking on full duties as “student director.” He designed the program, posters and tickets; manages the soundboard; learned the nuances of stage lighting; and came up with a dramatic way to project the “great and all-powerful Oz!”

Olson calls Nawrocki “Boss Man” to the cast, empowering him to multitask and keep everyone focused.

Student Director Collin Nawrocki discusses sound levels with Olson.

“People have no idea of how much work goes on behind the scenes,” Nawrocki says. “There is coordinating food, mics, costume design, special effects, lighting cues. The most difficult part is not knowing what’s going to go wrong.”

However, he doesn’t feel alone. The cast and crew in this year’s musical has become a tight family ready to help at a moment’s notice.

“You just can’t do it all by yourself,” Nawrocki says. “You have to have people around you that are supporting you. If you don’t, things won’t function well.”

Senior Ben Richards, performing the demanding role of the Cowardly Lion, shares similar sentiments, noting that the sacrifice of time extends far beyond the theater.

“You can’t do everything in practice,” he says. “There is a lot that goes on and has to be done at home. People don’t realize that family members help memorize our lines and master scenes. They are a big part of it.”

One thing clearly doesn’t go unnoticed to many of the students involved in the theatre arts program. Holy Family provides opportunities they may not get at larger schools.

Ben Richards and Marie Fahey with the Munchkin Ensemble

Richards says, “In a small school, you can do theater, Italian Club, athletics and get it all done. A lot of us are committed to so many things, yet we do well because we manage time and school work well.”

Shannon agrees, knowing that she might not have the same chance to do it all in a larger school.

“Everyone is really understanding of each other because we have so many things we’re involved in,” she says. “Here, the only pressure is to do a good job collectively.

All Hands On Deck

Annelise Brown is fine-tuning a song and dance number with the cast.

Take a look around the school just weeks before the “curtain lifts” and there are theater activities happening simultaneously in every corner of the school.

  • The Chorus, a group of students playing support roles in multiple scenes, works on the main stage with student choreographer Lillian Graupman.
  • Across the school, Holy Family Music Teacher Annelise Brown is fine-tuning a song and dance number in the chorus room with the main cast.
  • In a storage room adjacent to the theater, art teacher Shelagh Gamble “helps” two students putting finishing touches on the “Munchkin Land” set, one of four multi-paneled scene changes created for the musical. (Dozens of volunteers and students from Art 1 and Painting 2 classes created the massive backdrops.)
  • During a break, freshman Marie Fahey, cast as Dorothy, practices Over the Rainbow using the new wireless microphones Nawrocki sourced for improved sound.
  • Back on stage, middle-school students from Guardian Angels Catholic School in Chaska take their place as the loveable Munchkins, practicing their big scene with Dorothy.
Marie Fahey as Dorothy works with members of the ensemble cast from Guardian Angels.

None of this, mind you, takes place under Olson’s direction. The students are working independently today, as Olson, who also has a master’s in English and teaches American and Modern Literature, tends to Parent/Teacher Conference duties.

It Takes Unsung Heroes

In the dressing room, senior Costume Designer Natalie Wideman has Gigi (Shannon) try on a pair of black high-tie heels, perfect for the Kansas persona of Miss Almira Gulch, who transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Do they fit?” Wideman curiously asks, while wheeling a rack of costumes she’s altering. “Can you walk around in them for the whole show? Why don’t you wear them for the rest of practice today just to make sure.”

Wideman shares costume and set styling duties with Graupman. She used to act, but instead has taken a backstage role this year to do what she loves—create awe-inspiring costumes. She learned to sew from her mother while in 4-H, and began designing clothes on her own shortly after.

Wideman switched roles from actress to seamstress for this production.

“I’m taking a 1980s style wedding gown with the big puffy sleeves and making it into Glinda’s dress,” she grins. “It’s going to be fabulous!”

Wideman points out many students helped with this year’s musical, thanks to Olson’s all-school outreach that has made theater arts the talk of Holy Family.

“The whole school is involved. People are volunteering to paint backdrops and bring in props. A lot of people are pitching in with the lifting (of scenes) and helping make this something special.”

And the Show Goes On…

The lights will be glowing bright on opening night—7 p.m. Friday, December 8—when the first of three performances kick off a weekend filled with Oz. With every practice, confidence is growing and the pieces are falling into place.

“Kids in the theater space are full of ideas,” Olson says. “I want collaboration. I want to run the program by listening to students and other teachers, taking in what they want and working together to make it happen.”

No one knows that better than Nawrocki, who spends each day after school immersed in the theater environment.

“I’ve given him (Olson) so many crazy ideas,” he says, “and a few of them have even happened. There are going to be some unexpected surprises (with Oz). We haven’t even figured all of them out yet, but there will be some pretty cool stuff.”

That kind of enthusiasm in the theatre arts experience is exactly what Olson was hoping to bring to Holy Family.

“My biggest goal is to make kids feel welcome and that they have a place to trust in, perform and be expressive,” Olson says. “I want to establish a place where the kids know they can come and have it theirs.”

Getting back to that black-box theater busy with activity, Olson sees it as a challenge that’s even new to him.

“Most theaters I’ve been in are auditoriums with theater-style seating,” he explains. “This is definitely different and it’s uniquely challenging. We have to block things out differently. We’re in a triangle, performing for two sides of the room.

“I think the audience is going to have an intimate experience and see the actors and scenes up close. They’re going to be involved rather than sitting back, feeling like they’re part of every performance.”

Click HERE for the Wizard of Oz performance schedule. We hope you’ll join us for the show!

 

 

 

Spirit of Fire Gala is a huge hit!

Holy Family Catholic High School held its 18th Annual Spirit of Fire gala on November 11, 2017.  Parent volunteers transformed the school’s Slattery Activities and Convocation Center into a glamorous space for the 345 guests in attendance. The event exceeded its $300,000 goal, netting over $310,000, including an unprecedented $100,000 title sponsorship from Strom Engineering (Strom’s CEO emeritus, John Radick, is a current Holy Family parent.) Proceeds support school programs and tuition assistance scholarships.

Strom CEO John Radick

Themed “A Holy Family Tradition,” the evening kicked off with a cocktail reception and silent auction, followed by dinner and entertainment from the Holy Family jazz band, drumline, and vocal jazz group, Voices of Fire. Holy Family welcomed alumnus Tom Lano ‘11 as the master of ceremonies.

Joining Strom in sponsoring the evening were Silver Sponsors: KNW Group, Jaguar Communications, SevenHills Benefits Partners, Restwell Mattress Factory and LiveWell Chiropractic; Friends Sponsors: Browne+Browne Marketing, Requet Chiropractic, Charter Bank, Culvers, the Anseth family, and the Graupman family; Advertising Sponsors: Lions Tap, PK Services, and Catherine Seck of Edina Realty and a late-night snack provided by the Chanhassen Chick-fil-A.

This year’s fund-a-need focus was STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education. It raised $98,000 to allow the school to purchase additional 3-D printers and a CNC machine for the Innovation Lab, enhance the science labs and classroom equipment, replace the ceramic studio kiln, add a permanent grand piano in the Performance Center, and provide teachers with additional STEAM professional development.

A fundraiser of this magnitude would not be possible without the commitment of more than 100 parent volunteers who procured and organized the silent and live auction items, managed the logistics of setting up and tearing down the event space, supervised the junior class volunteers, and decorated the activities wing and center.

Holy Family’s new events and marketing coordinator expressed her gratitude after coordinating her first Spirit of Fire, “Through the entire planning process, I have been blown away by the generosity of our sponsors, local businesses, and parents.  I am so grateful for the parent volunteers who shared their expertise and knowledge from past events, not to mention the hours of their time in preparing and pulling off such a large gala.  It speaks volumes about what this school means to our parents and our extended community.”

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Holy Family Students Serve the Homeless

Holy Family Service Tradition: Breakfast at the Simpson House

5:00 a.m. Gracie Lund’s mobile phone comes alive, waking her on a “day off.” The Holy Family Catholic High School senior has 15 minutes to load groceries and get to the Holy Family parking lot to pick up a group of waiting freshmen ready for their first Simpson House experience in Minneapolis.

The goal: Serve a hot breakfast by 7 a.m. to homeless men and women who stayed at the shelter the previous night. It’s a simple gesture that means so much. Taking the time to serve a hearty meal and start someone’s day with a smile and a kind word.

“Simpson House is a great hands-on service project because you can see the people you are impacting,” says Lund, who learned the ropes two years ago as a sophomore. “I like seeing the people I’m helping, and it has a big impact on me as well. That’s why it’s my favorite service activity.”

Project Owned by Students

Lund and fellow senior leaders Alexis Pricco and Mark Haran have Holy Family alumnus Rob LaRose (2013) to thank for the early morning wake-ups. LaRose personally launched the service project his junior year, and it has become an ongoing tradition. The students completely organize the program, buy groceries and visit the Simpson House 15 to 18 times each year on days off, late-start days and even during the summer.

“It is unusual for a student group not to have adult supervision,” says John Vodicka, Simpson House Volunteer Coordinator & Shelter Advocate. “It says a lot about the students and their abilities, and the confidence Holy Family Catholic High School staff have in the youth.

“The students are unique in lots of ways,” he adds, “particularly in their genuine interest in serving the homeless poor, getting outside their comfort zone and spending time learning about what must be done to eliminate homelessness in our community.”

John Dols, Assistant Principal and Campus Minister, recalls how LaRose’s passion to make a difference at the Simpson House planted the seeds for a program that is now a Holy Family Catholic High School tradition.

“Rob served dinner there with his family and wondered what they did for breakfast,” Dols explains. “He found out they would have cold cereal or nothing at all. He decided to make a difference, and that he and his family would serve breakfast on his birthday.

“Then, he suggested to me that Holy Family should serve breakfast on days off and late starts. I totally supported that, but told him he would have to run it. He did for two years, and we both decided he needed to train a junior to take over if he wanted to keep it going.”

Reaching Out to Others

Six years later, students continue to make sure the Simpson House tradition carries on. Senior leaders this year took it even a step further, visiting the freshman Independent Studies (I.S.) class to recruit volunteers so they could see what the Simpson House service project is all about.

“We thought it would be good to get all grades involved this year,” Lund says. “It was actually surprising that the kids were so eager to go. We already have people for next time.”

On average, 45 to 50 Simpson House guests stay for breakfast before they have to leave the shelter each morning. Students organizing the project, who shop for groceries the night before, still use the original grocery list created by LaRose 6 years ago.

“Sometimes we change it up, making French toast instead of pancakes, or bacon instead of sausage,” Lund says. Otherwise, the list is fairly consistent. It includes:

  • 7 cartons of 18 eggs
  • 2 bags of cheese
  • 2 bags of precooked sausage
  • 2 boxes of pancake mix
  • 2 bags/containers of grapes, strawberries or other fruit
  • 4 gallons of milk
  • 1 gallon of chocolate milk
  • 2 gallons of orange juice
  • 2 gallons of apple juice
  • 2 bottles of syrup
  • 1 pound of butter
  • 1 package of napkins
  • 1 container of whipped cream

“I think it is important for Holy Family to continue this service tradition and make sure it is student led,” Lund adds. “ It gives students a chance to take leadership, organize and get kids together so they can see how they have an impact on others. That is really important.”

Dols agrees. “Sometimes, adults get in the way. This program is the students’. There is a true sense of ownership and pride,” he says. “Service is integral to our faith and an essential aspect of our Lasallian Charism. It is who we are.”

Watch Simpson House Slideshow