Performing Arts Editorial: In the Shadow of the Musical

By Katrina Schell, Performing Arts Division Head.

This year is shaping up to be very interesting for the LCA theater world. We have all heard announcements for spring musical auditions, which include singing, dancing, and acting. Guys and Dolls is definitely a fun piece, and it is bringing auditioners that have not all tried their hand at acting or singing before. I, for one, am glad that theater is reaching further than the Chamber Singers and multi-production actors. The fall play looks amazing, too! Written by our very own Mr. Greco, the middle school play will be an interesting take on the book of Daniel from the Bible. And that should be the whole year of theater. Oh, and the winter play.

The winter play is one that I take a particular interest in, as it is the only production I have unfailingly taken part in since I moved on to high school. The show is usually entered into festival, which is a day of plays from schools all around the area–there are two levels of participation, competitive and noncompetitive–and we have entered competitively until last year. The winter play is a different experience from the spring play, due to festival and the fact that that LCA student body is generally not concerned with attending less popular and less advertised events.

The spring play is obviously more popular than the winter play. A few people I have spoken to did not even know that a winter play existed, and were not at all interested in cutting two hours out of their Friday night to attend. Others thought it was a weird production, a time for theater nerds to experiment and love theater by themselves. In fact, the very people that are avoiding attendance are the ones furthering the experimental nature of the production itself.

We take the winter play to a festival, meaning there is pressure to “out-creative” other schools, which contributes slightly to the originality of the pieces. However, a larger contributor is the lack of attendance from the student body. Since the LCA community does not have a great appreciation of the work put into theater over the winter season and they do not come to the final production, there is a lower budget for the winter play, forcing Mr. Greco, the set designers, the costume department, and the actors to get creative. This fuels the fire of the student body seeing the production as weird, leading to lack of attendance, and so on and so forth. This vicious cycle reasserts itself every year, leading to a lack of recognition of dedicated actors and a weak payoff for months of hard work. These actors have dedicated the same amount of time to their craft as winter athletes, yet there is a higher attendance to basketball games every week than a single performance once in a season.

As I said, the cycle is reasserted every year, pushing the winter play deep into the shadows; however, this year is especially bad. My question is, why are spring musical auditions taking place before winter auditions? Have we as a community placed such a high value on the spring musical that we cannot handle waiting until spring to begin rehearsals? Have we made the winter play such a low priority that it must split its rehearsal time with the musical that will not perform in front of an audience until months later? The “weird” winter play has been pushed to the back burner even as the next item on the agenda.

Imagine if this situation was translated to sports. No coach would say, “basketball does not attract large crowds, and no one really cares about it except for the players, so we are going to start practice for baseball during the winter instead.” That statement is absolutely absurd for many reasons. First of all, crowd size and popularity is not what high school activities are attempting to attain. The Strodel Gym is not T.D. Garden; the Cross Center is not the Sydney Opera House. High school productions are not professional; therefore they are not dedicated to income. They are dedicated to teaching the new generation a skill, and teaching performing arts is just as–if not more–important than teaching sports skills. Mind you, I am not arguing against the importance of sports in teenage development; I am merely stating that the cultural emphasis on athletics has overshadowed the importance of the arts. But I digress.

Another reason the statement is absurd is that each sport, each activity, each performance has been designated its own time slots in the grand scheme of the year. Basketball is for winter, baseball is for spring. I have no objection to dedication in the off-season, but school time and resources are only dedicated to each individual sport when that sport is in season. For example, a baseball coach would not kick the basketball players out of the gym for practice in the middle of winter. Basketball has priority in the winter because of the ongoing games and immediate relevance. So why, then, is the spring play taking priority over the winter play? Why are spring musical auditions heavily advertised, and the winter play an afterthought? (Just as a note, as I was writing this article, another person came up to me saying they did not know the winter play existed, and did not even know the premise of the show.)

Not only is the spring musical overshadowing the winter production, it is also taking away dedicated actors that usually commit themselves to the winter play. Having two plays rehearse during the same time frame forces students to choose between the two, and most would follow the cultural expectation and choose the more popular one. Doing both plays would be equivalent to playing a sport and committing to the play (as a person that has attempted this tightrope walk, it is a terrible, horrible decision that will literally burn out a stressed student in two weeks flat).

I understand that Guys and Dolls will be heavily choreographed; however, are we starting it early because it will take that much physical time, or are we starting it early because we are brushing aside the winter play already as a failure? Not to doubt the actors, but with choreography as difficult as the time allotment is implying, will digging into winter play rehearsal time pay off in the long run?

So, what exactly am I looking for here? For those of you that do not know, there is a winter play this year, entitled War of the Worlds. It is about a real life event in which a radio broadcast made people think that aliens were taking over the world. Interesting, right? Maybe it is a little weird, but it will be a cool take on your traditional views on theater and the world. Not only is it an interesting experience for you, but your very own friends are taking part in this production. Basketball requires a cheering section, as do your actors (especially actors). Even if you are not going to the play for personal enjoyment, go for your friends, your classmates that dedicated the time and energy to becoming better at a skill.