When people hear about the drama department they wonder what it’s like as an actor on stage or what it’s like to be a director. What most people don’t think about is all of the things that go on behind the scenes to make those shows look the way the do. Tech and Stage Crew are key components to any of the shows performed. Most people don’t take time to ask, what actually happens in Tech and Stage Crew.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mount Saint Joe has never failed to give us amazing plays and musicals. This spring, the drama club performed the 1957 Broadway show West Side Story. Junior Brennan Hyde played a lead role as Tony with sophomore Patrick Scott playing his best friend Riff. Riff is the leader of the gang, the Jets, and deals with the feud between the Jets and the Sharks. The Sharks are a gang full of Puerto Rican boys led by Bernardo, played by senior Ezra Melchor.
While the two gangs fight for territory, Tony meets the love of his life, Maria, who is the sister of Bernardo. Mount De Sales junior Maya Nellum played Maria, as she and Tony fall in love and can’t wait to spend their lives together. Unfortunately for Tony, Maria is already engaged to Chino. For those of you literary scholars, West Side Story is obviously a modern twist on the classic story, Romeo & Juliet. As the two star-crossed lovers deal with the affair, it causes conflicts between the gangs. Maria and Tony fight for the freedom to love, while the gangs fight to end the feud once and for all.
As the cast and the crew were preparing for their performances, I had the chance to speak to Mr. Ader, who played the lead role of Tony when he was a student at St. Joe. Mr. Jason Ader, reflecting on his past performances, playing the role occupied by Brennan Hyde, said, “There was a lot of nostalgia watching some of my students play the same part I played 15 years ago…I’m really impressed and it was better than what we did!” Mr. Adam Kauffman, who was also in the show while a student at St. Joe, played the role of Jet member, Baby John. Sophomore Zach Polignone occupied the role this year, which was once filled by Mr. Kauffman. Mr. Kauffman said in the lead-up to the show, “I had a lot of fun in 2003 doing the show, I’m excited to see it. I have many students who are in the show [acting, stage crew, and in the band].
“There was a lot of nostalgia watching some of my students play the same part I played 15 years ago…I’m really impressed and it was better than what we did!” – Mr. Jason Ader
The show was seemingly a great success, as the audiences were overwhelmingly positive in their reception of West Side Story. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, I definitely recommend checking out the link below of all of the photos taken of the show. As a cast member, it was a cool experience playing a role in the production, and something I hope to hold onto, just like Mr. Ader and Mr. Kauffman. The production was led by theater director, Mr. Mike Hartsfield, who has guided this, his 30th show in his 15th year at Mount Saint Joe! As a cast member, I hope you enjoyed the show if you attended one of the performances. If you weren’t able to attend, I hope you come in the fall to see our next production!
To check out the full album of pictures from West Side Story, click here.
It’s that time of the year again, Mount de Sales and Mount Saint Joe unite on the stage to dazzle us all with their portrayals of some of the most iconic Disney characters.
At the beginning of the first act the curtains open up to the first number in the center of the town. Belle; who is played by Emma Romeo. Right away wows us with her powerful yet gentle vocals. The townspeople joining in create a perfect opening to this classic. Not too much later we meet Gaston; who is played by Michael Stromberg. Michael in the first act, did a great job of encapsulating Gaston’s macho, but not so humble persona. While Gaston may not have wooed Belle, he might just impress the crowd instead. Cogsworth, who is played by Stephen Kirby, and Lumiere, who is played by Connor Hurley, created my favorite part of the first act. Stephen and Connor bounce off of each other well, and incorporate the humor and sarcasm that make us love these characters. Now the Beast, played by Alexander Scott, while on the stage, draws the interest of the crowd with his ferocious voice and stalking presence.
The second act is where everything begins to pick up, we get to see the Beast perform his first number, it played a bit flat at first but Alex is able to bring it back home to kick off Act II. Once again in Act II, Kirby and Hurley’s humor brought airiness to an act which craves it. The cast as a whole brought the house down when they performed their rendition of the popular Disney song “Be Our Guest”
Overall the entire cast was wonderful, Emma Romeo, who portrayed Belle, looked very comfortable in her very first MDSA-MSJ lead role. Alexander Scott who was the Beast was the perfect counter to Emma’s Belle. With the delicateness of Belle’s character to the stomping and roaring of the Beast, it created a nice production. The pit band was outstanding, bringing to life these iconic songs. Mr. Jeffrey Hosier did a fantastic job ensuring the band was able to transport us to the world of Disney. I highly recommend everyone to go see this play, everyone involved worked endlessly to put out a great show and it absolutely shows on stage.
“Beauty and the Beast” will be presented on Friday, February 3 at 7:00pm; Saturday, February 4, at 2:00pm & 7:00pm; Sunday, February 5, at 2:00pm in the Mount Saint Joseph Fine Arts Auditorium. Tickets are $10 at the Box Office. Remember to follow @MDSDrama on Twitter for more information.