Jan 01

Behind the Scenes: Theatre Arts Prepares for Oz

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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!

 

 

 

May 12

James and the Giant Peach Musical

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PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS NOW

Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach is now a musical for the whole family to enjoy! Featuring a wickedly tuneful score by the Tony Award-nominated team of Pasek and Paul (Dogfight and A Christmas Story the Musical) and a curiously quirky book by Timothy Allen McDonald (Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley), critics rave: James and the Giant Peach is a “masterpeach!”

When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion that results in a tremendous peach… and launches a journey of enormous proportions. Suddenly, James finds himself in the center of the gigantic peach, among human-sized insects with equally oversized personalities, but after it falls from the tree and rolls into the ocean, the group faces hunger, sharks and plenty of disagreements. Thanks to James’ quick wit and creative thinking, the residents learn to live and work together as a family. The dangerous voyage is a success, but the adventure takes a whole new twist once they land on the Empire State Building.

Performances held in our new Performance Center on Friday, May 12, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.  Tickets may be purchased online and picked up at the will call window one hour before the show begins.  Tickets also on sale at the door beginning one hour before the show.

 

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is presented through special arrangement with Musical Theatre Internationl (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.  www.MTIshows.com

PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS NOW PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS NOW

Jan 01

Drama program announces spring musical

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This May, Holy Family drama department presents a musical for the spring play: James and the Giant Peach. This funny and heartfelt production is adventurous and perfect for an audience of all ages.

The play is based on the popular book by Roald Dahl. James is a young orphan who is taken in by two evil aunts. He acquires a magical potion, causing a peach to become gigantic and insects to become human. James then travels with the insects on his giant peach across the ocean, undergoing many adventures.

The cast has a minimum of 9 people, but the theater director, Ms. Olson, is hoping for as many as 35-40 participants.
Ms. Olson’s goal for this play is to set a high standard for what will hopefully be a tradition of musicals at Holy Family. She hopes that this production will help students gain interest and excitement to participate in future plays.

Ms. Olson chose James and the Peach because the show has a cartoony yet approachable mood. It’s also an appealing production because not many people have seen James and the Giant Peach, so they have no preconceived notions about the characters or the performance.

Auditions will be in the Performance Center on Monday, March 6 and Tuesday, March 7 after school, followed by callbacks, Thursday, March 9.

There are also 4-10 roles available for middle schools students. Auditions for middle school students are on March 20 between 4-6 p.m. Anyone interested in auditioning should contact Anna Olson at olsona@hfchs.org

Holy Family’s James and the Giant Peach will premiere May 12 and 13.

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is presented through special arrangement with Musical Theatre Internationl (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.MTIshows.com

by Mary Seifert ’17

Jan 01

Excitement builds for one-act production, “You’re Driving Me Crazy”

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On Thursday, January 26, at 7 pm, Holy Family’s one-act play, “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” will be presented in the Holy Family Performance Center. The performance is the culmination of months of rehearsals and preparations. This play is the first play presented to an audience in the new performance space and boasts one of the largest casts and crews in recent Holy Family history.

“You’re Driving Me Crazy” is a comedy about teenagers who are learning how to drive. It has four scenes, each with its unique storyline and point of view. Some scenes are from the perspective of the teens, parents, and even the driving instructor.

When asked, Ms. Olson, director and head of Holy Family’s theater program, explained her decision to select this play: “I chose the show because I thought both students and adults would relate to it. It moves quickly, which is essential for mini-shows, and it is funny. I think everyone who comes to see it will leave laughing!”

The students who auditioned for the play are embracing the amount of dedication that has to go into the performance and are now beginning to feel the pressure as the date draws nearer.

“I auditioned for the play because it was something different from what I’m used to doing. I’m forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone.” says junior Ronnie Deckard, “I’m very nervous because I play the Grandma. I only have nine lines, most of them are “what,” and I’m probably still going to mess up.”

While several students decided to audition for an acting part in the play, many showed interest in building and painting sets and running sound and lighting as well. Junior Nora Erdman volunteered to help with painting and gave an idea regarding what it will look like: “Since it is a one-act play, we aren’t planning on creating a huge set; it’s mostly a few boxes that we have to paint. We are also planning on making a makeshift car that the actors will sit in during each scene.”

This play will also be performed as a Holy Family’s submission to the Minnesota State High School League One-Act Competition, too. Ms. Olson was able to elaborate on what the competition entails: “The MSHSL One-Act Competition is an event held in the winter every year. All shows are meticulously timed and must be under thirty-five minutes. If your performance goes even one second over, it is disqualified! There can only be twenty students involved in the traveling production, including both actors and tech crew. Your set must be able to be transported to different locations and must deconstruct to fit within a 10’x10’x10’ cubic space. You have ten minutes to construct your set on the host school’s stage before performing, including any technical elements such as lighting and sound. Schools then perform their show for judges and receive feedback and an overall score.”

Nora Erdman also had this to add: “I think that the theater program is becoming a lot more recognized and will continue to grow. With all of the new equipment and resources, there are multiple opportunities for people, which is great! I think more people will get involved because of all the possible roles, and the fact that it is fun to do.”

Preparations will continue over the coming weeks. The public is invited to attend the January 26 performance. Students in grades 5-8 are invited to join the cast and crew for a post-performance reception and closer look at this play’s set and production. RSVP for the reception at http://myschool.hfchs.org/performancersvp.php

 

Following the MSHSL competition, the theater department will start preparations for the HF’s spring musical production.

Excerpt of orginal HF Phoenix article by Mallory Lindahl ’17