Beyond The Frills in Theatre

Dr. Kate Greenway, Drama Department Head, and Mr. James Darling, English Department Head
An excerpt from the Fall 2016 Corridors Magazine.
People often wonder what exactly it is that drama students do or learn. We think some of the points raised in the article “What Theatre Majors Learn: The Advantages Theatre Majors Have for All Jobs,” published in Dramatics magazine, are a good starting place and applicable to HTS drama both inside and outside the classroom.

    Students who work behind the scenes gain much from the opportunity to take charge of a production. Stage managers begin work even before auditions start. They are the ones who mobilize the cast and crew and disseminate information, organizing complicated rehearsal scheduling, props lists and design requests, choreographing scene and costume changes, and keeping the cast focused. Technicians in charge of lighting and sound have to be experts in using complex equipment in order to design and cue a production. Once the show is running, it is the students who are completely in charge. 
    Putting on a show is stressful; the key is to learn to deal with it. The onstage crew must solve problems to keep the show running smoothly. A missing actor, a scene change not completed, a costume falling apart – all must be handled quickly and effectively. The show must go on, so students learn to correct, mitigate or deal with whatever is thrown their way.
    Actors too must learn to cope with bumps along the way. Dance steps to master, lines to memorize, characterizations that are beyond one’s comfort zone – these challenges are gradually broken down and overcome. There is nothing quite like the confidence that comes with such an accomplishment.
    Students and teachers alike must find ways to make their vision a reality. How do you make a tree blossom on cue, complete with scent? How do you make it snow? How do you make a life-size sarcophagus that a person can be safely hidden inside? These are tasks that necessitate imagination, experimentation and creative implementation – valuable skills in any environment.
    People often wonder why we need to dedicate so much time to the school play. It is because in theatre, we are creating a piece of art that the world has never seen. If we are going to enter on such a monumental journey, and engage with ideas and truths that the playwright certainly took seriously, we owe it to the writer, our audience and ourselves to do it right. Seldom in life does doing it right mean doing it with ease.
    Theatre is the art of collective creativity. There is no “right” way to produce a play, and different directors will have differing visions of the playwright’s original intent. We certainly lived that with The Man Who Came to Dinner. The choice to double-cast, the original Foley work, the staging, the costume choices and even the pre-show dinner forced the actors and crew to contribute their talents to something beyond their creative control. What an excellent mirror of the workplace, where the ability to adapt and remain flexible is central to an organization’s growth and ability to move forward.
    There is a tricky moment in the lives of adolescents when they become aware of the need to work their egos into the fabric and flow of all other egos around them. Theatre teaches that skill early and often. It usually starts with the ego blow of not getting a desired part, or suddenly realizing that you are not the best actor in the room. In theatre, students learn that they will succeed only if they can help others to succeed. Understanding your role while celebrating and supporting the roles of others is perhaps one of theatre’s most enduring lessons.
    Why does a student actor agree to take on a role that requires learning 900 lines? Why does the set designer tear down wallpaper only to put it right back up? Why does the lighting technician stay late four nights in a row adjusting the focus of a light that no one but the technician will notice? Why does an “extra” rehearse for weeks a role that comes without a single line? In our latest show, HTS actors and crew showed this level of commitment and more. Once a student achieves success as a direct result of his or her commitment, that person will have trouble accepting anything less. And that’s just some of what a drama student learns. All who participate on the stage or behind the scenes benefit from their involvement in the theatre. When a student makes a conscious choice to take a risk and become involved beyond anything that is connected to the classroom or marks, the learning is not taught, it is lived. We’ve listed a few of the many advantages a drama student can reap from what could be considered the greatest co-op placement any high school student could ever wish for!
This years' Senior School performance is the musical Big Fish. Get your tickets today!