Raise the Curtain!

Article Contributed by
Lisa Yaggie

The month of March heralds many signs of spring; the first robin sighting, open water on the lake, the Chadakoin turning green for St. Patrick ’s Day. Another exciting thing that happens in March all over the county is the many High School musicals that take the stage. For months now, local high school students have been devoting many hours to practicing for their show. We have a lot of musical talent here in our area and getting to one or more of the productions is fun for the entire family.

No stranger to youth theater (Little Theater’s Junior Guilder Program), Helen Merrill is in her seventh year as Musical Director at Falconer High School. Mrs. Merrill is a passionate supporter of the importance of keeping the arts alive in our schools for our youth. “Theater,” she says “makes you think and be creative with your mind. You have to be able to listen, take it all in, weigh it and respond.” This is a very critical skill for teenagers to develop before heading off into the work force or college. Being part of the school musical is often a confidence and self-esteem builder and not just for the performers. Merrill notes that a critical component to all shows are the tech crews and pit orchestras. Merrill says she always has a conversation with her performers at the start of rehearsals that stresses how equally important all the participants are to the success of the show. “You would be in the dark, have no props in hand, no special costumes, no music to sing to without all the support groups, which includes students AND parents.” This teambuilding atmosphere is another critical skill to be gained.

With fifty four years’ experience in theater, Mrs. Merrill says she loves working with kids. It is important to her to teach them how to let their inhibitions go to get the job done. She notes that often, some students are worried they will appear silly but she assures them all that they will get to experience the audience laughing WITH them not AT them. With TV and the movies, Merrill points out that cameras are right there, up close, capturing all the subtle expressions and movements. On a stage, the performer needs to be bigger and bolder, but not go overboard. There is a note of such caring in her voice when she explains that she works with the kids to achieve their best.

Chautauqua Lake Secondary School
Catch Me If You Can
March 9 (7pm), March 10 (7pm)

Falconer
Bye Bye Birdie
March 9 (7:30pm), 10 (7:30pm) & 11 (2:30pm)

Frewsburg
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
March 23 (7pm) & 24 (2pm & 7pm)

Jamestown High School
Guys and Dolls
March 8 (7pm), 9 (7pm) & 10 (2pm & 7pm)

Maple Grove
All Shook Up
March 23 (6pm), 24 (6pm) & 25 (1pm)

Panama
Annie
March 23 (7pm) & 24 (2pm & 7pm)

Sherman
Two Heads Are Better Than One (Spring Play)
April 13-14 (tentatively)

Southwestern
Back to the 80’s
March 15 (7pm), 16 (7pm) & 17 (7pm)

Warren
Bye Bye Birdie
March 15 (7pm), 16 (7pm) & 17 (2pm & 7pm)

Theater can be a large part of the high school experience for many students. It provides a very important outlet for the non-sports oriented person and yet, it can equally appeal to all students of all grades. It can also provide some real job skills that can be transferrable to life after graduation. Running the sound board and getting the lighting just right takes a lot of responsibility.

When asked how a musical is picked each year, Merrill says the typical process is for the director to work with their music director (Ann Mogenhan @ Falconer) and take a look at the talent available for that year. Some years may see a very strong male lead, some years might have more comedic talent, but one thing Helen says all the school districts share is talent.

Ticket sales are the biggest fund raiser each show has to help fund the production. School districts might have a small budget amount set aside for the department or directors but in no way does it cover the cost to put on the entire musical. Finances have to be watched closely and costumes, set production, musicians and royalty costs all add up. Let’s show these dedicated artists that as a community we appreciate their talent and hard work by filling up the school auditoriums this March!