Senior high actors return to roots

Rachel Kaplan

A Brief History
Four years ago, Benilde-St. Margaret’s revolutionized its junior high theater program by performing an original debut, “Junior High: the Musical,” written by choir teacher Ms. Nancy Stockhaus along with her nephew Dylan Lamb. In 2005, the same year, the theater department added new positions for senior high students interested in working on the new production and helping to cultivate junior high talent.

The tradition of student directing carried on successfully through the years. In fact, for last year’s updated version of “Junior High: The Musical,” they had to limit the opportunity to upperclassmen because of the excessive number of applicants.

This year, the student directors include five actors from the original “Junior High: The Musical” itself. “They’re a huge benefit, taking kids aside who need help and drilling the scene or dance,” said Ms. Stockhaus, musical director of this year’s junior high production, “Cinder Edna.”

Director’s Responsibilities
Student directors’ tasks involve learning the song and dance numbers, helping the cast learn them, and working directly with the junior high actors to develop their theatrical skills. “It’s simple stuff, not a big deal,” said junior Sarah Farley who has been in five BSM theater productions, even playing the role of Chip in “Beauty in the Beast” in 2007. “You learn stuff throughout the years from Ms. Stockhaus, Mr. Effertz, and Ms. Stroh. It’s just nice to pass it on,” said Farley

“We give them advice like ‘If you don’t feel stupid, you’re not doing it right,’” said fellow director Catie Schirmers who was the stage manager for the senior high fall play “Romeo and Juliet.” Leading warm-ups, such as group activities and tongue twisters, is also a favorite of the student directors.

The role of student directors goes far beyond simply helping the actors and actresses with their lines and dances, however; keeping the junior-high kids quiet is just as big of a responsibility. “Forty junior-highers high on sugar after school is ridiculous,” said Ms. Stockhaus.

The student directors agreed that this often tests their composure. “It helps me try to be patient and mellow out,” said senior Laura Hickey, whose work on “Cinder Edna” marks her fourth consecutive year student directing.

“They text a lot, so we try to control that, but sometimes it gets out of hand. Its like, who are you texting during practice?” said Ian Hamilton, who has also been a part of five BSM stage productions and has plans for future auditions at the Children’s Theater and Stages Theater Company.

Not taking the job too seriously though, the directors continue to have a good time at practices. “When I was a seventh grader, [the student directors] had so much personality and spunk and made it a lot of fun,” Hamilton said, “I wanted to be like them.”

Mix forty junior high kids with six spunky directors and amusing incidents are bound to occur. “It was a bad idea to give them candy on Valentine’s Day. I got attacked…there were junior highers from all different directions. It was quite a chaotic scene,” said Farley.

The Joys of Directing
Despite awkward moments, the student directors’ relationships with the junior high cast have undoubtedly grown throughout the experience. “They’re perceived by the young kids as a wonderful older sister/brother kind of thing,” said Ms. Stockhaus.

“They’re all really cute and funny,” said junior Lauren DeJute, another active member of the theater department. “I’ve gotten to know them and like them a lot more than I expected. I’m three-fourths the way through my goal of learning all of their names.”

Not only do they form friendships with the younger cast, but the directors have found they get a profound sense of satisfaction from helping the younger students develop their theatrical skills. “I love helping the little children develop their talent. It’s about helping to get people active and having a good time,” said Laura Hickey.

Sarah Farley finds that the most rewarding part is watching the kids’ performances improve. “It’s awesome when they remember something you told them from last practice and the next practice they nail it,” she said.

Now with five years of experience since they were junior high cast members themselves in “Junior High: The Musical,” the student directors say they continue to evolve both as actors and as directors through student directing. “You need to understand how much patience is needed to go into a performance. When you’re an actor, you just throw everything out there. As a director you need to absorb that energy and turn it into something the audience wants to watch,” said Hamilton.