Southern Cayuga Conversations: Behind the Scenes, On Stage, and Beyond “Mamma Mia!” | Lifestyles
Elaine Meyers special for the citizen
For the hundreds of community members who would never miss a Southern Cayuga School District musical production, “Mamma Mia!” of this year! delivered our long-awaited theatrical success. The quality of the staging, performances, musical and choreographic precision exceeded all expectations on March 18, 19 and 20.
I looked forward to meeting the play’s director and talking to the students who worked onstage and behind the scenes to learn the secrets to their continued success. As with all my conversations, I came away fascinated by the talent of the faculty and the creativity and teamwork of our students. I also learned that the talents and interests developed during these productions can impact students long after they graduate.
This year’s production innovation started with the molding process. I met director Jennifer Diana, a middle and high school music and choir teacher, when I came to observe a rehearsal two weeks before the show opened. I was intrigued when she told me that she hadn’t announced her musical choice before the auditions.
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“When students aren’t restricted to a specific musical, they choose numbers that give me a much better idea of their singing range and ability,” she said. “They also can’t select a song to be sung by a specific role – reducing a sense of competition for characters perceived as ‘stars’. There was no disappointment when, after the auditions, I put together students and announced the selection of the ‘Mamma Mia!’ Everyone sincerely applauded every casting decision, and we had a team ready to make this the best production of “Mamma Mia!” regardless of their role on stage or off.
What impressed me during the first rehearsal was that the more than 40 cast and crew members gathered on stage and stretched and moved together during the warm-up. Ms. Diana sat on stage and directed the movements as the recorded music played. It was hard to imagine that warm-up exercises could mobilize 40 students, but I saw them moving as a team. Sitting in the audience, I just wanted to get up and move with the band. The enthusiasm was contagious.
My next encounter with Jennifer Diana included five students who had onstage and backstage roles – some students had both. Senior Jacob Myers played Sam Carmichael and served as a student assistant director. Jacob auditioned with a song from the show “Fly By Night” – a song suggested by his friend Justin Jillson. Jacob laughed when I asked him to explain his work as an assistant director.
“Well, I’m the one telling them to sit down, prepare and listen. I also answer all of their questions during those early rehearsals,” he said. “We have 40 people working on this production and 17 of them are in middle school. For many of these seventh and eighth graders, this is the first time they have been part of the cast or the team. The good news is that during the hours we spend in rehearsals, we all learn the dances and songs together. I’m so impressed with how many people there could play any role if the need arises. Luckily, we had enough rehearsals that I was no longer asked, “What is this scene and where do I have to be?”
Heather Adsitt is also a senior and she was a stage manager in “Mamma Mia!” Heather was the only student who was not on stage during our conversations or during the performance.
“I’m Ms. Diana’s stand-in and I have the same notebook with the scripts, scores, stage directions and all the sound, lights and action clues needed for the performance,” she said. declared. “As I said in my program notes, my favorite part of every show is watching it all come together at the end.
While Heather didn’t audition for a part in the play, I watched during rehearsals and saw that she knew every dance move and could sing the lyrics to every song.
As elders, Heather and Jacob shared the bittersweet reality that this would be their last production in Southern Cayuga and that their close bond with Mrs. Diana would change as they headed to college. Heather will attend Alfred State and study veterinary technology. If she has time, she will work behind the scenes at Alfred State productions. Jacob Myers is enrolled at Nazareth College majoring in adolescent education and theater production – the same college and majors as his mentor, Mrs. Diana. Jacob plans to audition for college productions and is excited that his college classes might include returning to Southern Cayuga to help with student productions.
I attended the opening night production of “Mama Mia!” and watched Robyn Morgan senior’s parents sell tickets. Robyn will attend Wells College and pursue her theatrical interests. When I was seated I saw Abby Sweet, who had performed in many musicals when she was a student in South Cayuga. Abby has a full-time job, is enrolled full-time at Empire State University, and will be graduating next year with a business degree. I asked Abby what she learned in her four years of acting in high school that helped her through college.
“Theater in high school taught me the power of dedication,” she said. “When you give your all for something, you are bound to see a result. Theater gave me the confidence to believe in myself and my work ethic, which has taken me far.
Junior Justin Jillson’s mother and I discussed his interest in professional theater and its impact on his choice of college. The dramatic journey doesn’t end with a performance or a graduation.
As the final curtain was drawn, I watched my program. The last two scenes of the musical and the finale featured the full cast of the production. As over 30 students danced and sang, the audience rose from our seats and clapped, sang, and even danced along with the team. It was inspiring to be in the moment and to realize that for many students, acting called them professionally. What was most encouraging was knowing that everyone came away knowing that the team is the point of so much effort and that there are no small parts.
Elaine Meyers of King Ferry is a board member of King Ferry Food Pantry, ABC Cayuga and the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project, and a member of the Southern Cayuga Garden Club. She coordinates a literacy support program at Southern Cayuga Central School.