The stage is set for local dramas

April 02, 2006|By Kate Coleman

Brian Sullivan, who recently landed the role of executive director of The Maryland Theatre, plans to hold an awards ceremony to honor high school performing-arts students, according to a March 23 story in The Herald-Mail.


I hope it will include scenes and songs from the shows.

I haven't seen a local high school production in several years - not since my daughter was accused of being a witch (certainly not by me) in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and sang and acted in "Bye Bye Birdie" with her St. Maria Goretti schoolmates.

The closest I've come since then was attending a rehearsal of "Peter Pan" at Williamsport High School for a 2002 Herald-Mail preview.

Veteran director Ruth Ridenour, a woman of limitless energy and talent, told me she had wanted to do the show for a long time and had "squirreled a little money away" for the production. The budget was more than $13,000, nearly $3,000 of which was the cost of flying the student actors across the stage - something I would have loved to do when I was a high school thespian in New Jersey. Or now, come to think of it.


These days, a $13,000 budget is peanuts.

The high school's current production of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," running through April 9, will cost more than twice that amount.

A New York Times Arts section feature published last May was headlined "The Supersizing of the School Play." It spotlighted a production of "Into the Woods" at New Albany High School in New Albany, Ind., a show with a budget of $25,000, a much lower price tag than the previous year's $165,000 budget for "Beauty and the Beast."

The story pointed out that New Albany, a city of 40,000, is not particularly affluent or arts-oriented, yet residents rejected a tax cut - by a wide margin - in order to pay for a $50 million renovation of the high school, which included a $17 million performing arts annex.

The citizens of New Albany value the arts for the kids in their community.

So do I.

For the past three springs, visits to my Mom's home have coincided with plays at my high school alma mater. My niece Julie played Gertrude McFuzz in "Seussical" last year. Last month, niece Holly gave 150 percent as a member of the ensemble in "Evita."

I don't know how much it cost, but it's safe to say Shore Regional High School's drama club has joined the ranks of the "supersized." Shore Players now hires a professional producer/director, music director, musicians and choreographer. A professional costumer created astonishing attire.

Some of the action was staged on elevated platforms. The actors wore tiny, nearly invisible microphones - state-of-the-art technology that's a lot different from the fist-sized boom mic that hung, secured with duct tape, from a wire at center stage in my day many years ago.

We did rent beautiful Elizabethan costumes from New York for the Shakespeare play within the play in "Kiss Me Kate" (guess who I got to be!), but most of our wardrobe was scavenged from family attics and area thrift and discount stores.

Have things gotten out of hand? Has the high school play gone a little over the top?

Maybe. But maybe not.

I think the magic of creation can happen even in the simplest production - even with a low budget.

But the higher-priced high school plays still are amateur productions, and I mean that in the best way.

The Latin root of that word is amare - to love.

The kids get no money for their efforts. They are doing high school drama purely for the love of it, and they are learning and growing and reaping benefits that will last way beyond the final curtain call.

They take long hours of focused hard work and create something wonderful.

No matter what the show or its budget, every high school play has enough of Peter Pan's fairy dust to transport its cast, crew and audience to Neverland.

And that's priceless.

Kate Coleman covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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