By Matthew Merril '22
Being a part of the theatre department at school is an incredible experience. While doing theatre outside of school is on a completely different playing field, it is similarly incredible. This past summer I attended Theatre Lab. Theatre Lab is a non-profit group that works to help teens who enjoy acting understand themselves as a performer. I had the pleasure of being a part of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. All people interested in beginning or continuing their theatre careers should try out-of-school theatre. I would recommend it especially to those who want a first-hand learning experience — it’s an incredible and worthwhile journey. The first step of the journey was the audition.
I had auditioned for the show after the majority of auditions, so the show was already cast. Personally, although slightly egotistical, I wanted validation that I was good enough to be a part of the program. I was the last to audition for the whole program, so I immediately assumed I was going to be cut. I remember driving to the Calvary Baptist Church (where Theatre Lab is located), completely unaware of what would ensue. I walked into a music studio with a piano and two people. I was shocked to find out these were the director and music director. My palms immediately got sweaty. Then it was my time to shine. I must admit that I killed my audition. I was proud of my 32-bar cut of Stars from Les Miserables. Just two days later I got an email that I was cast as a gargoyle and in the ensemble. Now all I had to do was wait.
The day of the first rehearsal finally came. I’ll admit the first three days were mentally very challenging. Five-hour rehearsals of just singing are not for the faint of heart. Once the cast moved past this milestone, the fun began. The actual theater itself was in the round, so with incredible direction, the ensemble pieces (of which the majority of the show was composed of) were coming together nicely. As mentioned before, five-hour rehearsals are hard. In order to succeed, I had to make friends. Initially, I was to make friends. As a relatively new “theatre kid,” I wasn’t sure how I’d be perceived. One thing about theatre kids is that, though at times they can be strange, they are the most accepting and supportive individuals you will ever meet. Some of my closest friendships have been forged through theatre. After Theatre Lab, I was proud to call myself a theatre kid.
One issue that I encountered was staying professional. Serious theatre programs which prepare students for careers require grit. From day one, all the kids were so into the piece. I, on the other hand, was not. Some of the dance moves seemed embarrassing to me. I was terrified to hear judgment from friends or family that I was being “weird.” However, the beautiful thing about theatre is its ability to build courage. Being courageous is such an important skill, and I learned it from theatre. Lastly, from day one, we were encouraged to take risks. The directors would much rather watch someone make an odd character choice than be bland on stage. These first-hand experiences helped me to develop the acting techniques I intend to improve from here on out. If anyone wants to continue acting throughout their life, summer programs are incredible for helping people take risks and be courageous.
There is no easy way to describe the experience of theatre camp or Theatre Lab specifically. When a group of people spend five hours together every day, it is inevitable they will bond. Countless ventures around Chinatown and the Portrait Gallery Museum before rehearsal easily formed relationships with castmates. Tech week was a whopping 12 hours a day. This show meant so much to each castmate. The music was phenomenal, as was the staging. The leads were mind-boggling. I still am baffled I had the chance to work with some of the most incredible teen actors out there. Building a show together, performing it together, and loving it together is truly what the whole experience is about.
Finally the verdict. Should you go to theatre camp? Well, the answer lies in your dedication. If you are willing to work and be focused, you will have the time of your life. If you want to become an incredible actor, Theatre Lab is the place to go to. The range of students’ skill level was amazing. The actress who played Esmeralda was on the Voice, while some students had never done a show before. No matter your skill level, if you want to improve theatrical skills or even life skills, go to theatre camp. Now there are a few cases where theatre camp is not recommended. If you are committed to many other things that would require you to miss many rehearsals, being in a show is not right for you. Each rehearsal brings you that much further to becoming the person you want to be and commitment is emphasized from day one. If you don’t enjoy singing nor willing to push your boundaries you may want to rethink theatre camp. All in all, Theatre Lab was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Though I was hesitant to make new friends and take risks at first, through time I became so self-aware as a performer and person.
By Mckenna Dunbar '19
Six months ago, I walked into the piano room on the third floor of Hearst, and my life has not been the same since. At 9 am on the dot, I slowly opened the door and glanced around the room where instruments were scattered every which way. Cellos resting on their stands, flutes and their respective reeds strewed across a desk, a drum set tucked away in the corner of the bright, cream-colored room, and tables of instrument accessories that lined the walls welcomed me. Right in the center of the room though, was a boy about my age. That boy was Nathan Heath.
Days before, I anxiously checked the class roster in anticipation of who I might have to interact with for the rest of the year. I clicked under the list, and it appeared as though I was the only one on it. I became immensely confused but then realized that this was probably not out of the ordinary due to the last year’s music theory class consisting of only three students. I sighed and tucked away my laptop. I would just have to wait a couple more days to find out.
Flashback to the first moment I walked into music theory. I was quite nervous because I had never been in a class so small before. I did not know much about music theory, other than playing the violin for nearly a decade, and even so, I was in a two-person classroom with Nathan Heath. I had never spoken to or knew much about him, but according to my peers who were familiar with him, they described him as being very intense and devoted to his music. That made me even more anxious about the following months. If I could barely distinguish major and minor seventh chords at that point, how would I be able to keep up with someone who was known on the Close to be a musical prodigy?
I pulled up a chair and sat down, iPad in tow. Nathan cheerfully questioned, “Is it just us?” and I responded with a hefty “yup”. He cracked open his laptop and some sort of beautiful sounding symphony started blasting from his speakers. At that very moment, I knew it was going to be an exceptional year. Mr. Wood soon walked in and introduced us to the topics we would learn throughout the semester. His good-hearted and genuine nature as the director of orchestral music of NCS indubitably reflected in his teaching style that day. He is an individual I have looked up to since the seventh grade and I considered it to be such an honor to finally have a formal academic class with him.
Over the course of the next few months, Nathan and I became very close friends. Our personalities just somehow clicked. Class was never boring and I looked forward to sitting in Mr. Wood’s room learning about harmony, key signatures, chords, and inversions amongst other music theory topics. The lessons were entirely captivating, fun, and interesting, like Nathan’s presence, and that truly added to the fun of it. My day was brighter because of that hour spent with Nathan and Mr. Wood. Never would I have imagined being a part of a trio like the one we all formed. It was the class that allowed us to meet each other, but it was our love of music, engaging conversations, and the piano that formed a bond of true friendship. Nathan has spent countless free-periods teaching me the piano, and in turn, I have told innumerable jokes in class, much to Mr. Wood’s chagrin. Not only is Mr. Wood an incredible person, his ability to care about both Nathan and me as individuals is what makes him stand out from many other adults I have encountered. Like Mr. Wood, Nathan has taught me the value of devotion and has shown me how rare true kindness is in the world. I have music theory to thank for that.
If you are looking to fill your class schedule with a fun and engaging class where you make meaningful connections with your peers and teacher while learning about the history and dynamics of music, music theory is the place to be!
By Jada Fife '20
Let’s go back, way back to 2013 when I first joined the Close instrumental community. Before my sixth grade year I decided to switch music lessons from my one at Beauvoir to Mr. Garay, who teaches percussion at STA. In seventh grade, I joined Orchestra as a percussionist as a part of my arts requirement. As a freshman, I joined Jazz Band since Mr. Garay was the one that ran it. Finally, in the winter of my sophomore year, I was “strongly urged” by Lawson Karppi ‘19 to join the pit band for the Upper School musical. In other words, I was mostly forced into instrumental music on the Close.
Consequently, all of these experiences have allowed me the tremendous pleasure of witnessing the occasionally cacophonous mess that is our performing arts program on the Close; and its seemingly natural inclination to shaft instrumental music, especially the smaller groups. Whether through performance opportunities, outreach, or student engagement, the orchestra and other instrumental music often is left in the dust by the Close’s singing programs. The orchestra’s performances are often overshadowed by those of the Chorale; Jazz Band is dwarfed by the number of singing groups on the Close; and the musical’s Pit Band is usually visually obscured by some sort of wall or screen.
Despite of all this, there are still incredible students who are passionate about instrumental music here. They put in the time and effort to make harmony out of the disjointed notes our schools often hand us. Out of these hardships and mild annoyances arises a small, but mighty, supportive community of musicians, united around complaining about boring and difficult pieces and orchestra memes, that I love and will forever be grateful that I was pressured to join.
By Prasanna Patel '19
Dance has been a part of my life since the beginning. Over the years, I’ve rehearsed and performed with several teams, but my experience with the NCS Dance Team has been the most unique and positive. Dance is a sport and an art form that expects the utmost perfection from its practitioners. I never thoroughly enjoyed dance as a kid, because it simply enhanced the perfectionist in me, which took the heart and soul out of my performance. However, my view of dance was challenged when Coach Maurice Johnson expected something else out of me instead of perfection: growth. He expected growth in not only my technique, but also a development of my personality in relation to the choreography. Coach Johnson wants his dancers to put themselves into every move. Throughout my four years in Dance Team, I’ve learned how to feel the choreography, and how to put that emotion into the performance.
NCS Dance Team is also different in that it is made up of individuals who celebrate this growth instead of competing against one another. Since we all aim to personalize the choreography, the ten individuals who make up the team are the performance. Rehearsing tirelessly with the team is hard work, especially when blocking is messy or the choreography isn’t clean, but we all help each other out and work to make our performance better. Dancing with this team for the past four years and serving as captain has been so fulfilling, because I have seen my teammates grow, and they have helped me with my own growth. Thanks to Coach Johnson and my teammates, I continue to find myself in the choreography and grow with every rehearsal and performance. Dancing has become an expression rather than an activity.
By Isabel Steinberg '19 and Sareen Balian '19
Tune In is the co-ed glee club on the Close. Tune In was started two years ago by Sareen Balian ‘19 and I in our junior year. We founded Tune In as another student-led group on the Close, so that we could share their love for music with others. Tune In is a place where lots of different people can feel comfortable singing together and creating beautiful music. Arya Balian, a freshman in the group, says, “Tune In has been such a fantastic part of my ninth-grade experience. I am so grateful for the wonderful Tune In family for making great music and great friendships.” Mac Johnson, a senior in the group, reflects, “Tune In has really helped me develop my confidence on stage and in my own voice; the opportunities for solos and holding your own part have taught me to handle responsibility in a small group and helped me learn group work and communication skills.”
Tune In is unique among student musical groups in that its focus is musical theater songs with accompaniment. This year, our accompanist was talented pianist, Andrew Wu ‘19. We have performed at the Kennedy Center as well as a fundraiser for a US senator. Our show at the Kennedy Center was on the Millennium stage. It was live-streamed and archived in the Kennedy Center.
Tune In is so special to me because it has given me an opportunity to further my musical skills. Through organizing rehearsals, I have learned how to manage other people; I have learned how to prioritize what is important to me; and I have learned how to share a leadership position with my Co-President, Sareen. I have also made such good friends with people in all grades at both schools. I am so glad that Sareen and I started Tune In; I could not have imagined high school without it. Sareen Balian agrees: “Tune In has been a wonderful experience. It has been challenging and yet truly exhilarating to run rehearsals and manage the group and its members with Isabel, while creating truly wonderful music and creating a community of like-minded musical students. We are truly a group of friends who love what we do and love to share it with our communities.”
We are looking for people to play accompaniment for next year. If interested, please contact me (202-368-9279). Tune In will be having auditions at the end of this year. We hope lots of people will audition!
By Taliyah Emory-Muhammad '19
I came to NCS in eighth grade, and if you had told me that I would end up spending most of my free time doing theater during high school, I would have laughed and called you crazy. I initially joined tech crew in eighth grade because my new friends said it would be fun, and it would be a good way to make new friends. Little did I know I’d be spending hundreds of hours working in Trapier, along with the best friends and teachers I could ask for. After eighth grade I knew I wanted to continue working backstage so I worked in the scene shop, was on set crew for the productions that year, and began the track of the highest-commitment art classes I’ve ever taken.
I began designing at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year for my Advanced Design class. During that tech week, I was the most stressed I ever had been in my whole life. This past January I had a college interview in which the interviewer asked me about the first show I designed. I told them it was 42nd Street, and they replied, “Wow, that must have been a lot.” It was. I was usually the first one in the theater, arriving two hours before tech rehearsal began, and I was usually the last student to leave, as I needed to discuss with the faculty on stuff I needed to work on. I had this routine for almost every other show I’ve designed lighting, as I learned how hard it is to work on a production while being a full-time high school student. I began designing scenery in my junior year. It wasn’t as time-consuming as lighting design, but I still had to work hard to meet deadlines and make the set look as good as I could. A lot of designing is learning how to use the tools and technology to make theater, and knowing how to communicate on a huge team. But when you get down to it, it’s just finding out the best way to make my art work with everyone else’s art. It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s incredibly rewarding to say “we did it!” after closing every show.
Even though I know I’ve designed for eleven shows, I still get kind of shocked when I remind myself that I’ve spent over 700 hours working in theater. I guess it doesn’t feel like that much when I’m having loads of fun with my teachers and classmates. Last fall, along with the other Thespian Society officers, I had the privilege of inducting new members for the first time. The theater was filled with excitement for the new school year. It reminded me of my first year working on productions as a freshman and of why I returned to theater year after year.
By Matthew Sheets '19
Every Dance Gala season, I have the same familiar and disappointing conversation with St. Albans freshmen. It usually starts with them asking me a question about the NCS-STA dance program, and ending with them deciding to audition for One Acts instead. For those who don’t know, performers in the Upper School participate in the Fall Play, the Winter Musical, and then must choose between either Dance Gala or One-Acts. Dance Gala is a showcase consisting of various dance numbers of different styles, choreographed by the students themselves or the dance faculty. The One-Act Play Festival features student-directed plays of around ten minutes each. The Fall Play, the Winter Musical, and One-Acts give students “Thespian Hours,” allowing them to be inducted and advance through the International Thespian Society.
Dance Gala, however, does not offer students a chance to accumulate hours, as it is not considered to be “thespian” enough. This is the obstacle that causes my discussions with prospective dancers to be so disappointing. Once performers hear that only one option offers them credit toward their careers as thespians, they often make their decision immediately. In a world which typically has a large gender-gap, the Thespian Hours factor worsens the prospects of recruiting St. Albans students especially. Adding to many dancers’ frustration is the fact that those who work on Dance Gala behind the scenes (light designers, tech crew, etc…) do get Thespian Hours.
In keeping with the tradition of behind-the-scenes Dance Gala artists receiving hours, I propose that student choreographers should also receive thespian credit for their work. As the STA Thespian Society President and a four-time Dance Gala student choreographer, I can attest to the theatrical nature of Dance Gala choreography. In my own dance routines I have told the story of a brainy high-school boy finding an exciting group of friends, a young couple dealing with an impending eviction, and a woman moments after discovering that her fiancé has been unfaithful. However, if you won’t take my word for it, the book agrees. According to the official Thespian Induction Point System, student choreographers receive as much Thespian Credit as actors with a “Major Role.”
Not only does cultivating student choreography skills improve the dance program, but it also encourages student leaders who can help in all areas of performing arts on the Close. As a four-year Dance Gala performer, it pains me to say it, but this change is not only the fair and honest thing to do — it might be necessary for the survival of the dance program as a whole.
By Noah Kang '19
The NCS/STA Thespian Society annual spring production, the One Acts Play Festival, will be performed in late April. Auditions are this Wednesday, March 6th. One Acts have always been a fantastic opportunity for people who are not normally a part of the theater program to try their hand at acting. This year, One Acts features eight unique one-act plays, directed mostly by senior members of the Thespian Society. Some of the plays were even adapted by the directors. Whether you end up cast in a comedy or a tragedy, One Acts always ends up being a fun and enjoyable experience for all involved. Thus, I would encourage anyone to try out, especially seniors who want to experience high school theater in the eleventh hour.
I have done One Acts for the past two years and have loved my experience through and through. As a sophomore, I was cast in two plays, though one was a non-speaking role. In one, titled “Mine Eyes Have Seen”, I was a grizzled war veteran and mule driver returning home to spend time with some old friends, a pair of brothers played by Max Niles (STA ‘18) and Charles Snowden (STA ‘17). The play was a rousing scene of patriotism, a commentary on the cruel reality of war and life as a whole. I was honored and intimidated to have a speaking role at all as a sophomore, but it helped that our director, Maya Millward (NCS ‘17), was so kind, and that I would be working alongside Charles, who had never acted in a production on the Close before. The special thing about One Acts is that it attracts people who have never been in a play before, and a majority of them end up being pretty great actors. It is always fun to see people who you would not normally expect excelling out on the stage.
I hope to see you at auditions!
By Jorge Guajardo '21
The NCS and STA Thespian Society has just closed an extremely successful second weekend for its winter musical Titanic. The musical, composed by Maury Yeston, details the tragedy that befell the White Star Line ocean liner Titanic on April 15, 1912. The first act details the hopes and dreams of the passengers, while the second act is laden with tragedy as the ship founders. Showing both the story lines of the first, second and third class passengers as well as the ship’s crew, it provides an emotional recounting of the sinking of the great vessel.
Titanic was a truly enormous musical with 58 cast members not including run crew, makeup and costumes crew, and lights and sound crew. Perhaps most obviously showcasing the size of the musical is the stage. Designed by senior Mac Johnson, it occupies 520 square feet of platform space, utilizes two levels, and has 3 staircases, one of which is movable in order to be used differently in each scene. This is necessary as the musical calls for different areas of the ship to be shown simultaneously, which can be conveyed easily with assistance from the lights crew.
In addition, the orchestra plays almost constantly and most lines in the musical are sung. There are many quick changes, many musical numbers, many scene changes, and thusly many areas to mess up. This musical was going to take a great amount of skill and finesse to execute. However, the cast and crew were up for the challenge.
While designers such as Mac Johnson were working on the musical since as early as September, work for the cast began in early December. After near a hundred hours of total rehearsal time, the cast stared down the daunting task of uniting with tech crew and orchestra for a grueling and difficult tech week. Because of an ill-timed snow day, the cast and crew were left with only 2 dress rehearsals to perfect the piece before opening weekend.
Come opening night, the cast marched across Decker Terrace dressed in an assortment of 20th century wear having just heard tearful senior speeches and awaited the first notes of the orchestra to enter Trapier Theater. After a beautiful overture, the musical began with a 15-minute-long opening detailing the boarding process of the ship’s crew as well as the three passenger classes. The boarding progress commenced and the maiden voyage was on its way. Opening night went fantastically, and there seemed to be no dry in the audience during the final number. Emotions were running high for cast members as well, as not only is the content of the musical very emotionally impactful, but this also marks the last musical and last production in Trapier for our seniors.
The atmosphere leading up to closing weekend was bittersweet, as many of us had developed a fondness for the production, some of us even turning into Titanic quasi-scholars. Many of the cast members “wikipedia”-ed theirs and other characters in order to get a more dimensional sense of the show. Emotions were heightened especially on Saturday, which was, as I mentioned, the last musical performance for our senior Thespians.
Thank you to all who made Titanic a success—Mr. Bishop, Mr. Sherlock, Ms. Liberman, Mr. Straub, and all of our fantastic cast and crew!
by Harrison Grigorian '19
Humor and sadness, joy and maleficence, heroes and villains — Titanic depicted a menagerie of emotions and characters. I have never been an actor or been particularly into musicals, but I often try to attend our Close productions. Sometimes, I end up extremely impressed; other times, not. Titanic, though, was a perfect denouement to the seniors’ careers. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Though not an acute observer, I discerned a high level of solos over the course of the show. I’ve often jested about singing a solo in Chorale, though I, of course, would never have the guts to do it. Some actors had minutes of time alone on stage, and not once did they blink under the pressure. Even freshmen stepped up to the plate in a big way, filling crucial parts: the future of our program is bright.
One scene that struck me especially — for those who saw the show — was the scene with Misters Kang, Mazzucchi, and Mott battling over who bore culpability for the incident. Their emotion was real, their notes were crisp, and their movements were sharp. They had clearly rehearsed the scene for hours untold, and it showed in the execution: just one example of countless movements coordinated by the Thespians in rehearsal.
The second half of the show, after the crash, had me on the edge of my seat: Who will live? Who will die? The show quickly became solemn after the incident, as high-brow humor turned into general panic. The suspense among the audience was palpable, as laughter during the first act evolved into sobriety.
Despite the audience knowing the ultimate fate of the ship, the success of the show was in the ending. Immensely impressive were the final two or three numbers, as the ship sank. The actors portrayed the difficult decisions — who should go on a lifeboat, who should stay aboard — in a very real way.
The seniors excellently completed their careers at Trapier Theater, and I have enjoyed seeing them grow onstage. Congrats to the cast and crew of Titanic!