Tag Archives: Mr. Hartsfield

An original opportunity: the importance of creative arts at MSJ

“High school is one of the greatest times in your life where you can explore your passions,” stated Mr. Bianco, the director of student life here at Mount Saint Joe, about the importance of student original creative work. High school is, in fact, the opportunity for students to find themselves and the passion that rests inside them. Many students have options to try out for sports, study specific topics, and be involved with extracurricular activities that follow their interests. But what about creative arts? Does high school give students who want to explore the creative arts the chance for student-produced work? I interviewed some of MSJ’s creative and leading teachers for their take on the importance of creative arts at MSJ.

MSJ’s Drama Club’s “Peter and the Star Catcher” cast and crew during rehearsal.

One essential aspect of creative arts is the first word of the study, “creative.” Students find themselves intrigued by the area of study due to the availability to express themselves through creating and producing their own work. That chance for students at MSJ to work on and showcase original work allows them to explore that possible career path. The Carpenter, MSJ’s literary magazine, gives students the chance to publish their pieces of writing. The drama department allows students to act and be a part of the plays and musicals put on in the Knott Fine Arts Auditorium. But other than those two outlets, which are somewhat limited, do students have chances for showcasing original work? The Drama Club at MSJ is currently working on expanding its horizons and giving students more opportunities for showcasing original work. The club is hoping to host a winter cabaret to show original creative projects.

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Mr. Hartsfield, an English teacher and director of the theater department, states that “it’d be great if students could produce their own (creative) work.” Other than the art show here at the Mount, Mr. Hartsfield does not believe we see enough student-driven work. He would like to see students “create their own content like plays, film or singing…I don’t think we see a lot of that now”. He also claims that “there should be more of an opportunity for that to happen.”

Mr. Stromberg, a new theology teacher at MSJ.

Mr. Bianco commented on the idea of giving students the opportunity for an original creative project, “I think if we give students those opportunities, to figure that (project) out along the way, that’s a high school’s responsibility. That’s especially a Xaverian Catholic high school’s responsibility.” Mr. Bianco relates to the importance of the arts due to his “side hustle” of playing the guitar. He explained how, in college, he was in a band that really helped him through that time in his life. He explained how ”those things matter to us because that’s how we express ourselves.”

Mr. Stromberg, a new Theology teacher at the Mount, is also connected with the arts in the way of musical theatre. He received a Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre from the Catholic University of America. When asked if he felt prepared by MSJ for that area of study, he said, “I would say yes…(MSJ) taught me how to have a certain work ethic.” He continued to explain his creative opportunities at the Mount, “It did prepare me…the way it taught me to approach education.” Still, he detailed how he did not get the specific chance to find that creative work opportunity. He did not find that passion for musical theatre until he went to college at CUA. But as he now begins his teaching career here at the Mount, he wants to support students who have a passion for creative arts and make sure they have that opportunity.

Other than the shows and the literary magazine at MSJ, students do not have a strong outlet for their original creative work to be shown to the school community. Hopefully, the Drama Club will sponsor and host a cabaret for students to explore, create, and showcase their original work for Gaels, friends, and families to see on the stage.

Ethan Webber is a senior member of the Quill and the Multimedia Journalism class.

A behind-the-scenes look at the casting, producing of a Mount St. Joseph performance

Mr. Mike Hartsfield, MSJ’s drama director

Casting and directing a show here at Mount Saint Joe, especially in high school takes a lot of work from both the director, and the cast. I got the chance to interview the Mount’s drama director, Mr. Michael Hartsfield, as well as senior Brennan Hyde, an experienced cast member in the shows. I was able to get from them both angles of producing a show at Mount Saint Joseph from the side of casting, directing and acting. 

Auditions are the real start of the process, when director meets actor. Here at Mount Saint Joseph, Mr. Hartsfield both directs the shows themselves, and casts the actors. That is a lot of responsibility right there, having to make all of the casting decisions in a short amount of time, not to mention the fact that Mr. Hartsfield doesn’t cut anyone from casting, and everyone gets to participate. 

When it comes to auditions, Mr. Hartsfield looks for certain things from his actors, varying from show to show, play and musical. So if you’re a student looking to audition for one of our shows, you’d better pay close attention. Preparedness is a top quality that our director looks for in an audition. He wants to see people that have done their research on the show, and that have practiced their audition, whether it be a song or a monologue. There are also some general things that Mr. Hartsfield wants to see on stage. Strong projection of their voice, personality on stage, clarity, and for a musical; obviously, he wants to hear their singing abilities.

Senior Brennan Hyde, one of the stalwarts of St. Joe’s productions.

Brennan Hyde had never done any real shows, and only began his career here at the Mount. He has since risen in the ‘ranks’ in theater, and has landed himself a number of strong roles, including the part of Tony in “West Side Story.” Brennan has been in the driver seat of a lead, so it’s safe to say, he knows his way around the stage. Brennan had very similar things to say, despite these being separate interviews. Brennan does his research on the show he’s going to audition for, and finds out the theme. For musicals, Brennan says it depends on the musical, but he makes sure to research them, too, so he can pick the best song for his vocal range, as well as the range of a part he wants to get.

A question or topic that has come up when it comes to casting decisions is awarding roles based on your grade level. The concept comes from students wanting ‘a chance’ to have a bigger role, before they leave high school. According to Mr. Hartsfield, that is a “constant critique of…every high school director in the country.” Mr. Hartsfield also says he does not factor grade level into his casting decisions, but he does; however, use it as a neck and neck tiebreaker for a part. When Brennan Hyde was asked if he believed Mr. Hartsfield made casting decisions based on grade level, he also disagreed. The same story came up in both interviews about another student, Patrick Scott, who was cast as Ren, the lead in “Footloose,” when he was ‘only a freshman.’ Scott is now a junior at MSJ, and has since also played the part of Riff in “West Side Story.” With that in mind, it seems that the process is based on the audition itself, with grade level being a minor aspect of the decision-making process.

Body microphones used in MSJ’s productions

After Mr. Hartsfield has created his cast list, the first thing he does is call the entire cast for a read-through of the show. This is done to familiarize the cast with the show and the feeling of it, before they get on stage. This also builds chemistry between the cast members so they become accustomed to who they will be working with. After that, the process of rehearsing a play is quite simple: walk and act through the scenes chronologically on stage to practice and get the blocking down. Musicals; however, can be quite a different story, with the order in which the scenes are practiced can be completely out of order. When Brennan was practicing as Tony in “West Side Story,” he spent a lot of time reading his part, and understanding what his character was going through. Brennan says it wasn’t a difficult transformation for him, although he had some trouble pretending to be as “sad” as the character.

Tech booth microphone box

The final piece of the drama puzzle before the actual show is Tech Week. Tech Week is the week leading right up to opening night where everything is supposed to come together – the sound, microphones, actors, major set changes, and stage lights. The biggest trouble that Mount Saint Joseph has had in recent years, is the sound system. Mr. Hartsfield calls it the “bane of our existence” for MSJ shows. When MSJ does musicals; however, there are even more things that need to be accounted for, tested, and incorporated into the show: the pit band and the singers, and managing the sound for both.

At the end of the week, Mr. Hartsfield and his stage and tech crew always manage, and the show is ready to be put on. So when MSJ puts on their show each night, where is Mr. Hartsfield? Is he back stage helping the stage crew? Is he at home taking his well-earned nap? No.

View of the auditorium and stage from the tech booth

Mr. Hartsfield is still hard at work, stressing it out up in the tech booth “calling the show.” That means Mr. Hartsfield has a walkie-talkie and is still directing, in a way. Instead of cueing the actors, Mr. Hartsfield gives cues to the stage crew in the wings (off to the sides of the stage) to make important set or curtain changes. Being in the tech booth, Mr. Hartsfield also calls cues for sound changes, lighting, and specific sound effects they need.

As you can tell, there is a plethora of moving parts that go into each of the productions here at St. Joe, thanks to Mr. Hartsfield, his crew, and of course, all of the talented actors that participate. Another special thanks to my interviewees, Mr. Hartsfield and Brennan Hyde, for their time and a bit of an inside scoop.

Christopher Kelleher is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.