By Shannon McLoud
Growing up in a small town myself, I know firsthand the annual rituals that make living in a close-knit community so appealing. The local favorite breakfast stop, the pizza place that is better than any place in NYC, supporting the high school football team, and of course, the annual high school musical. For many of us, our first introduction to what could become a lifelong love of theater began within our high school’s auditorium. This certainly speaks true of Smithfield High School – what is a more quintessential example of the small town experience than a high school production of Grease? And these students have pulled out all the stops for it under the careful tutelage of teacher and director Katherine Young and Kelly Chartier who is the school’s band director.
Stepping backstage, and I feel that I’ve stepped back in time to my own days in high school theater; sure we spoke of our heartthrobs, and this cast is talking about The Jonas Brothers, but it’s all the same; the laughter, the singing, the stage makeup. A production like this takes an approach of “all hands on deck” which is evident as I watch ensemble member and stage manager Chloe Olean apply stage makeup to sophomore Bryce Moroni who plays “greaser” Kenickie. Although the senior has about a million things to do backstage, Chloe stops to help out Bryce, who is about to make his first ever stage debut. Moroni isn’t the only newcomer to the boards however as Alec Devine, a junior playing the lead role of Danny Zuko, explains that this is only the second role he has performed; his first show being a few months earlier. From that experience Alec realized “I love the relationships formed in theater,” and that love has kept him rehearsing non-stop since September.
Although I spoke to many of the kids one-on-one, there was one sentiment they all echoed; the relationships, the camaraderie, the community that a school theater program provides. And of course the same can be said about sports programs, but not everyone can, or wants to, play on a team! Enter school music and theater programs, stage right. And does Smithfield High School have a fantastic program! This is their fourth annual musical production; they began the journey with The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and Cinderella. Senior Juliana Rivelli states the experience best. Although the senior, who will be going into music education in college, has done shows with Stadium Theater, and even started her own production company, It’s Lit Productions, there is something to be said about the safe performing space of a high school theater program. “All four of these years have shaped me into a better actor, dancer, and singer. I’m so excited to end my senior year with one of my favorite roles with a great cast.” A few days before opening night Sophomore Emma McKay, who plays Frenchie, enlisted her mom to help out with hair backstage. Besides holding down a full-time job, Emma’s mom, Mariane, is a licensed hairdresser on the side, and volunteered her time to help out backstage. Emma, who was an understudy in last year’s production mentioned that participating in theater can be a good stress reliever, adding “and the people in it are so good. I’m passionate about it.”
Ensemble member Julia Mitchell echoed that sentiment, “I really enjoy the community we have here,” she said while Julia Lytle added that acting gave her confidence in life. “It encouraged me with my fear of talking to people.” Of course, not everything was so serious backstage as Jessica Lawton mentioned that the best thing about playing the character of Jan is getting to break a cardinal rule about costumes “I get to eat onstage!”
Bringing these kids together and creating such a powerful community is Katherine Young. She explained to me that it was important to the school that the musicals came back, and although she has been around for the last three shows, she had only placed herself in the co-director chair. With last year’s Cinderella, she felt ready to take the reigns. Her partner in crime, fellow teacher Kelly Chartier, rehearses the pit. “I begin conducting two weeks before the show.” The rehearsal process runs four days a week, and as the students pointed out, on Fridays, they have chorus practice for school. As dedicated as the students clearly are, it takes dedicated teachers to put in so much time to make a show of this caliber a success.
When Smithfield High School puts on a musical, it really is the hottest ticket in town!