Tag Archives: MSJ Fall Production

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.

MSJ Drama Makes Waves With “The Tempest”

img_0242Whether you are a fan or not, Shakespeare has somehow found a way to permeate almost every level of pop culture since his lifetime in the early 17th century.  And while almost anyone could quote the opening line to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy from Act 3, how many of us actually understand what the great poet actually was saying?

Never fear: with the Mount Saint Joseph Drama team, even those among us most illiterate in the intricacies of early modern English should be able to enjoy the playwright’s shows.  Opening November 18 and running through the weekend, Mount Saint Joseph’s rendition of The Tempest is sure to be a riveting experience for anyone.

Mount Saint Joseph’s Drama production, The Tempest, during pre-production.

The story centers on a mysterious isle inhabited by the eccentric wizard Prospero (Senior Stephen Kirby) and his idealistic daughter Miranda (Elena Rittie).  Prospero, the former Duke of Milan until his usurping by his own brother, has used his magical spells, as well as the power of his faithful sprite Ariel (Mary Langley), to arouse a storm to shipwreck the boat of the King of Naples (Senior Kyle Watson) upon his island.

In the aftermath of the eponymous tempest, the members of the King’s court – including Prospero’s mischievous brother, Antonio (Senior Alex Scott), and the King’s own shifty brother, Sebastian (Sophomore Marcellus Palmerino) – wander about the isle aimlessly, falling victim to several pranks by Prospero.

Meanwhile, a comedy of errors ensues as two of the King’s drunkard attendants, Stephano (Senior Henry O’Toole) and Trinculo (Senior Connor Hurley), join forces with Prospero’s dissatisfied slave Caliban (Senior William Hartman) to take over the island, getting more and more inebriated along the way.

On top of that, the King’s son Ferdinand (Sophomore Aaron Sutton) and Miranda might have a thing going on, adding to the fun of the show.

Mount Saint Joseph’s Drama production of The Tempest, during pre-production.

In its approximate 105 minute run, The Tempest brings the audience to a world where disbelief is indeed suspended, and in the times when things get confusing, help from various narrators between acts will get you up to speed.

With a stellar cast, a brilliant set design, and direction by the ever-popular Michael Hartsfield of the English Department, The Tempest is sure to be a Shakespeare performance you can enjoy. Performance dates are 11/18 and 11/19 at 7PM and 11/20 at 2PM.  Tickets are $8 and concessions and flower and candy grams will be available during intermissions.  Come out and see the show.

Article contributed by Connor Hurley ’18. Photos courtesy of Henry O’Toole ’18. For more information, please follow the MSJ Drama Club at @MSJDRAMATWEETS.