Life skills learned on the stage
Times Staff Writer
What drives high school students to work long hours, four nights a week, and give up some of their Saturdays to put on a musical? It's more than just the spotlight or the opportunity to be featured on stage. These 28 students have built a sense of community, which is evident in every scene.
Tonight, the Gunnison High School Drama Club will open its performance of "Willy Wonka," a musical adapted from the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The story is about a poor paperboy — Charlie — who wins a golden ticket with four other children to visit the famous, yet secretive, chocolate factory. Mishaps befall the children during the course of the story until Charlie receives a big surprise at the end.
This is the fourth annual production since the club came back to life as many years ago. For senior Jayde Wilkerson, four years in drama club has given her the chance to build relationships which last throughout the year.
"I like the community of it," said Wilkerson. "I like the people in it. We are all kind of knit as one group."
But the hard work starts with the staff that support the club. Each year, they choose a production which will be featured in the fall. Then, Director Susan Barrett — the school district's occupational therapist who volunteers her time for the club — spends the summer adapting the script, blocking the moves and choreographing the dance that makes the performance come alive. Barrett is assisted by musical director Matthew Coronado and her husband, accompanist Bob Barrett.
This year's production, Barrett said, was selected because the large number of featured roles would showcase the most actors. Most of the roles are double cast — meaning different students will play the part of a specific character on different days of the performance.
"There are a lot of juicy roles," Barrett said. "I spent much of the summer arranging to get the most kids the most stage time they could possible get."
Last year, the club presented “Peter Pan” in which every role was double cast. But Barrett said she learned her lesson.
"It was a bit overwhelming," she laughed. "We weren't going to do that again."
Students learn more than just their lines and parts, Barrett said. They take away from the experience skills which transfer to many avenues in life. The young actors grow in confidence, she said, and learn to think on their feet. And when a crisis occurs on stage — such as a missed line, or a problem with a piece of wardrobe — students learn to persevere. Their motto is, "Just tell the story."
"We spend a lot of time talking about professionalism and characterization," Barrett said."(We're) teaching them stage etiquette and work ethic. You show up, you be prepared, you hit your marks."
Seven seniors will be performing in this year's musical: Wilkerson, Ben Wiens, MaKenna Williams, Meghan McGregor, Breanne Barrett, Zach Marshall and Emma Dominguez. Dominguez, who is in her second year of drama club, said she has implemented in her life many of the skills she's gained through acting.
"Performing on the stage is a big confidence thing," Dominguez said. "It's built me up in that way. I know if I can do that, I can do a lot of things."
Wilkerson agreed. While she joined drama club because she loved “The Sound of Music” — the club production four years ago — she has stayed because of the bonds forged between each musical note.
"I love these people," she said. "They're all amazing."
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
What: GHS Drama Club’s performance of “Willy Wonka”
When: Nov. 2 and 3 at 7 p.m.; Nov. 4 at 4 p.m.; Nov. 10 and 11 at 7 p.m.
Where: Gunnison High School Auditorium
What else: Tickets are $5. The candy man will sell candy at intermission, and each purchase has the opportunity to win a golden ticket.