Posted on January 23, 2018 by Scot Allen
Middle school students rehearsing Madagascar Jr.
People generally aren't surprised that student-athletes devote a large amount of their time to practice, games and, of course, their studies. Likewise, it is no surprise that International Baccalaureate students at Mid-Pacific also devote much of their free time to study, research and collaboration.
Students in Mid-Pacific School of the Arts also have much the same devotion to study and craft. In fact, starting in the middle school, students devote as many as five days a week and more than three hours a day to rehearsals... all to prepare for only six performances in the fall.
Some days the students work until after 7 p.m. Of course, the students still need to eat dinner and finish their homework! More than 40 students were involved both on stage and back stage during the fall production run of Madagascar Jr.
Eighth grader Samantha Crisci, new to the theatre world, played four roles in the show. She confided that slowing down her speech and projecting were her main challenges. Was the attention to detail worth it? "I think it was because we had a lot of moving parts that needed to be figured out and we had the time to do that," Crisci said. "I liked the whole process because it is so new to me. It was fun. My friends are mostly dancers so they understand that I can't hang out after school. They understand the need for long rehearsals!"
Many folks might wonder how middle school theatre productions differ from high school productions. "There's no difference," said CoCo Wiel, the show's director. "The stress on the students is the same. The expectations are the same. I put as much attention into the end product as a director as I did with my high school productions. So it's a true MPSA production... it's what we do."
Wiel works with students who are getting their very first taste of theatre life.
"No matter the grade level, I want the production quality, acting, and stagecraft to be the best experience possible. It should feel like something that would be done in a professional theater."
According to Wiel, there are different levels of experience on stage, so, for the director, it's a goal to strengthen the students with no experience, and to streamline those that have a lot of stage experience so that the performance looks balanced and equal on stage.
Each student comes to MPSA with talents, strengths, habits, and experiences to work with. Wiel notes that this was a young cast with youthful energy that she feels helped propel the story.
"I was able to see tremendous growth come from the students," she said. "Sometimes there is just a beautiful experience and understanding that blossoms during the course of a production. I think that was one of the nice things this year."
She notes that last year's production, "Pirates of Penzance," was also fun, but "Madagascar Jr." was a larger challenge because it was based on a movie. "You absolutely have to provide things people have seen in the movie, otherwise, the audience isn't satisfied!"
For the middle school performance, the MPSA teachers always choose a musical comedy. "I think it is a good introduction since it requires the triple-threat of singing, dancing, and acting. All musicals are about communicating a story and - most importantly -- it is the acting that propels the story."
Of course, the ultimate goal is the performance itself, but through the process of getting there, everybody has his or her own growth stories and inspiration. Relationships are formed. "You kind of become a family," Wiel said. "A very dramatic family! Special bonds forms between the students. Their heart and soul is out there. When something doesn't work out it is devastating for the entire stage family. Through their commitment, they learn how to adjust, adapt and work things out."
Seventh grader Melissa Spencer played three characters, and this was only her second production with MPSA. "Madagascar is a fun and silly show," she said. "I feel the younger students brought out a fun vibe."
"You rehearse so much, and when you are performing it's just like time goes really fast," she said. "We start with choreography and vocals and we also do run-throughs, which take hours. Sometimes I wonder to myself if we will even finish the first number. So we need a lot of time to make sure everything is in its place and no one is messing up."
Both actors agreed that the public shows were an amazing experience, as they performed for parents, relatives, friends and fellow students.
"I enjoyed learning new choreography, and the run-throughs," Spencer said. "The biggest challenge for me was not taking everything personally. I had to learn that not everything that a director or choreographer does is trying to bring you down... they are trying to bring out the best in you!"