With the highly successful performance of Into The Woods, along with the upcoming first student-directed musical in Brimmer and May history, the Upper School theater program has enjoyed a landmark year—all while pushing the envelope even further.
Last year, the Upper School also delighted audiences with its performance of In the Heights, about a largely Latino neighborhood in New York facing difficult change.
To learn how the theatre program grew to it’s current heights, The Gator did some digging (quite literally, into the School’s photo archives).
According to Creative Arts Department Chair Bill Jacob, who first came here in 1988 as a Lower School drama teacher, theatrical productions improved as stage and equipment restrictions loosened.
Before the construction of the Ruth Corkin Theatre in 2000, though, Jacob says that the School lacked a proper stage with practically no theatrical equipment.
Productions were performed on a temporary stage in the gym, where the fitness center currently resides, or in the cafeteria and dance studio. “We had to set up the lights, run the cables to the light board, the acoustics were terrible, and we had limited options for scenery,” says Jacob. “That was a very difficult space to work in.”
“The acoustics were terrible, but it was just as fun,” says Tess Jenkins Leeds ’91, who appeared in every show throughout high school—all in the gym.
Rachel Glickel Bennett ’00 remembers performing in Fiddler on the Roof as a freshman and how the audience had difficulty hearing her from the stage. “The gym definitely made me work on my voice projection skills,” says Bennett. “My sophomore year I was Annie in The Miracle Worker—the inaugural show in the new theater. It was epic, so-high-tech, so special.”
David Cutler ’02, who advises The Gator and teaches at his alma mater, fondly remembers performing in Jacob’s inaugural fall play, Museum. “I had a relatively small role, but with that awesome stage and high-tech lights, I felt like a Hollywood star. Those rehearsals with Mr. Jacob remain some of my fondest memories as a student here.”
For a while, Jacob says, the School also rented out a concert hall at Pine Manor College. Unfortunately, even the short distance between campuses limited what students could do with the set, as everything had to be transported by van to be assembled.
Understandably, Jacob was “ecstatic” when the School launched its campaign to build the theatre. Jacob played a major role in designing the stage, along with his department chair predecessor, Marty Hennum, whom he replaced in 2001.
At first, the Upper School performed three shows a year in the new theatre: a fall play and a winter musical directed by Jacob, as well as a spring play directed by Dean of Student Life Paul Murray.
“We eventually decided that this was too much,” said Jacob. “More importantly, though, we wanted to give students the opportunity to direct and put on their own productions.”
Now, Jacob says he is “living the dream,” especially with the scene shop right next to the stage. The theatre also has what he calls a “library” of platforms, props and various structures that are easily reused throughout the year. The space is also significantly more conducive to inviting in scenic designers, who help students create vibrant sets.
“We really made the set design for Into the Woods a learning experience,” says Jacob, adding that along the way, students had the chance to see and discuss how their work enhanced the performance.
Recently, the School invested money into updating the soundboard in the recording booth. Currently, Jacob is working with consultants to install a new lighting system with LED bulbs, allowing the lighting designer more flexibility through a new system.