JHS Thespians present “The Miracle Worker”

The Miracle Worker tells the story of Annie Sullivan and her student, blind and mute Helen Keller. William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker dramatizes the volatile relationship between the lonely teacher and her charge. The JHS cast and crew have stepped up to the task with some big challenges portraying this classic story. Don’t miss your chance to catch the phenomenal student-run, annual Fall production this week!

The Miracle Worker has powerful messages for everyone. In Helen, Anne, and Kate Keller (Helen’s mother), audiences can identify with strong and independent female characters.  Others can empathize with parents of children with disabilities, and try to imagine the challenges as well as rewards these courageous and loving families experience.  It’s also easy for those in education to admire the tenacity and strength of teacher Anne Sullivan. 


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Performances will take place at the Jenison Center for the Arts, November 7 – 9 at 7:30pm and a matinee on November 10 at 2:30pm. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for Senior Citizens or Students under age 18. 

*Due to its dramatic nature, this play is not recommended for younger children who are unable to sit quietly for the duration of the performance.


When Anne Sullivan died, her ashes were placed inside the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  After Helen died, her ashes were interred next to those of her beloved teacher. Teachers know how important and special a relationship with a student can be. Finally, everyone experiencing the show can relate to the importance of perseverance.

This year also marks the 25th Anniversary of Mr. Todd Avery bringing quality educational theatre to Jenison and our surrounding communities. 

Miracle_Worker_2019-1-2“Theatre can make a difference in the lives of everyone! No matter how our production touches you, we are delighted to share in our storytelling.  

Thank you to the many amazing volunteers overseeing essential teams such as set design, costumes, lighting, and sound. BRAVO Cast & Crew! Another job well done showcasing your talent and dedication! I am blessed to have the opportunity to direct this incredible play in my last year at JHS with this talented group of young actors and techs.” – Todd Avery, Director of Theatre Arts JPS

Click here for the full photo gallery.

Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose – not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.” Anne Sullivan

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Mary Poppins Musical is ‘Practically Perfect’!

Yesterday was the first day of Spring; excitement was high and sighs of relief could be heard across the stage. Despite losing 10 days of working sessions due to bad weather over the winter, they made it – spring is here and they are ready to sweep you off your feet! 

The Jenison Thespians are proud to present their spring musical, Mary Poppins. It’s the broadway version of a quirky story about a flying nanny with her trademark long coats, umbrella with a parrot head and rosy cheeks. An irresistible tale known by many; Mary Poppins teaches children with patience, kindness, and a little bit of magic. Through numerous recognizable and unforgettable singing adventures, Mary and her friend Bert help the Banks family set things right – maybe more right than they’d ever been before. 

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In true Mary Poppins fashion, high school cast members surprised their Jenison elementary friends this week by popping in at their schools for a flash mob. Appearing out of nowhere, the actors performed a singing preview of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! for a stunned but excited lunchtime audience.

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The hard work and attention to every last detail by the cast and crew, along with countless adult volunteers, will not go unnoticed! You will be delighted with outstanding acting, stunts and artistic talent. The songs, dance steps and full live orchestra performance will leave you flying higher than a kite!

There are 4 more opportunities for you to catch this family friendly production this weekend. You will not want to miss it! Visit www.jpsarts.com for tickets

A huge thank you as well to the JHS direction staff for the Mary Poppins show. Director: Todd Avery | Music Direction: Sarah Hazel | Choreography: Emily Ambs | Orchestra Director: Dan Scott

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Traveling Music Education

High school exam week is a busy time and students often countdown the days until they complete their last big test. This winter, the Jenison High School Choir and Orchestra students had another reason to anticipate the end of an often stressful week.

At the end of the day on Thursday, January 17, they embarked 4 deluxe motor coach busses and set off for a long weekend of fun, music appreciation and education. Excitement was high and it was pleasantly sunny when 191 students, a handful of directors, and plenty of caring parent chaperones set off on their way to the Twin Cities, Minnesota area.

Mr. Dan Scott and Mr. Grant Carmichael (directors of Jenison Orchestra and Choir programs respectively) believe that giving our students opportunities to grow both as a musician and a person is very important; and traveling is something that suits that goal. Students and musical ensembles grow musically by living and sharing experiences together, and performing and working with teachers at a more advanced level. A trip like this occurs every four years, giving a Jenison student the opportunity to join at least once in their high school music career. The directors spend many hours working to create an itinerary for this trip to guarantee an unforgettable experience.

Kicking off this year’s memorable trip; was a stop in Chicago. Authentic Chicago deep dish pizza at Giordano’s for dinner, followed by a much anticipated performance of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.

After spending the night in Chicago, the hardworking loading crew got everybody and their stuff back on the bus. This crew consisted of volunteer students that were willing to work hard to make sure each and every piece of luggage, and all 104 instruments were accounted for each time the group stopped. This was another great teaching opportunity for students to follow a process and use team work efficiently – in very cold temperatures. Often, students that weren’t officially part of the crew jumped in to assist as well. They did their job brilliantly and showed character and strong work ethic at each stop. Next up, was shopping and Friday night dinner at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. 

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The hardworking highlight of the trip was the visit to the University of Minnesota on Saturday morning. Each clinician brought wonderful diversity in perspective and background. Students were exposed to several new ideas pertaining to rehearsal and performance of their music, and had the opportunity to be treated like a collegiate/professional ensemble. The clinics inspired the students to see what is possible musically and how close they are to obtaining it, despite not being professional musicians. It helped reinforce the reality that they too, are artists and can make music at the highest of levels. Our Jenison music directors and students also remarked, even with the added diversity in culture and experience; both professionals reiterated and validated many concepts students had already been learning in our award winning programs at home.

Orchestra Clinic with Ernesto Estigarribia

The words Ernesto Estigarribia used to direct the students, described his style of conducting: energy, passion, powerful and articulate. He connected with the students personally and technically. They were on the edge of their seats, thoroughly engaged in high level music making for the entire clinic. In a very relevant analogy, he told the students to not play as if they are giving the right-of-way to someone else. Play boldly and aggressive, then playfully added – but don’t drive aggressive! He urged them to leave fear behind and not be tentative in their playing, from the moment they pick up their bow. His passion was made even more clear as he pleaded with students to not give up their love for music. Although not everyone will study music and be a full time musician; there are many opportunities to keep music alive. Fostering love for music, playing for fun, and attending performances are all important for good balance in the world. Our orchestras made a strong impression on him. He shared that they are playing at a very high level and should be very proud to be part of such a great program.

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Dan Scott, Ernesto Estigarribia, Josh Zallar, Becky Bush

Choir Clinic with Ahmed Anzaldúa

The choirs sang for Ahmed Anzaldúa who greatly transformed music making for the group. Mr. Anzaldúa challenged traditional notions and encouraged the students to think about their singing as a truly interactive and social event. Our Jenison singers participated wholeheartedly when he described music as a team building, story-telling adventure. He warned that choir can bring about an awful side that stifles creativity, however, with the right attitude from each member, they can achieve true balance. They worked to dissect the musical piece to understand each part; guiding them through exercises where they listen to and learn from each other, recognizing that all parts need to be heard. Choir in its best form is about people – self expression and fun experimentation as they find character in each sound.

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Jenison High School Choirs and Choral staff: Grant Carmichael, Justin Colwell (accompanist) and Kyle Cain with Ahmed Anzaldúa

After a very busy, hardworking morning, the students enjoyed lunch and game time at Dave & Buster’s before returning to the hotel.

Saturday night was another treat as the busses rolled up to Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, the nation’s largest professional dinner theatre. The students enjoyed dinner and a Broadway quality musical performance of Irving Berlin’s ‘Holiday Inn’. The show was an unexpected delight for many students. In the end, while the acting, singing and choreography was incredible – it was the larger-than-life sounding, behind-the-scenes, 10-man live band that received most of the student applause. Music appreciation at its finest!img_0723

Our Jenison Fine Arts programs are among the finest in Michigan and throughout the region. Thank you to our outstanding music staff who invest their time and efforts to make our excellent program a reality for our students. I am excited for the memories they made, the lessons they learned and am incredibly proud of the way they represented themselves, their music program and the Jenison Schools District/Community. This is a wonderful compliment to the students, their families, and the community of Jenison! 

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Our orchestra and choir staff had an amazing experience with the students on this trip and are so proud of the hard work and grateful for the memories from this trip! Back row: Dan Scott, Grant Carmichael, Kyle Cain. Front Row: Becky Bush, Josh Zallar. Missing: Justin Colwell.

 

 

 

 

 

JJHS presents Seussical the Musical, Jr.

A few weeks ago, the Jenison Junior High Thespians traveled to our elementary schools to give students a sneak peek of what was to come in their show, Seussical the Musical, Jr. While they used limited props and were unable to travel with their amazing set, this is always a fun experience for the actors and audience alike and sparked great excitement.

Since then, the finishing touches have been finalized and the JJHS production officially opens the curtain tonight! Led by Director – Holly Florian, Music Director – Sarah Hazel and Choreography Director – Carol Johnson; this group of dedicated and passionate students (on stage and many hidden behind stage) have demonstrated amazing team work and put their talents to work creating something very special.

The story on stage begins with a small boy, with a big imagination. With assistance from the Cat in the Hat, an inspiring and peculiar story will unfold; transporting viewers into an imaginative, colorful, and playful world. At first glance, Horton is just a jolly and friendly elephant, but soon he exhibits a dedication to his beliefs with inspiring determination. Director, Holly Florian embraces this theme and says: “In a year where young people have committed to making their voices and beliefs heard on a National and International level, Horton’s story has been a reminder of the power of listening carefully, and not being afraid to speak up in the face of injustice.”

136804905aecb19948c2b14793d449147828c32a13680527681ae838fca1bfffc5d630c0f4652fd8This show will be a hit for all ages, as many of us grew up reading Dr. Seuss and his stories remain a classic for students today. Ms. Florian captures the essence of the joy behind this show for her and the students saying, “His stories allow the reader to be transported to a magical world where anything is possible and even the “smallest of smalls” can have a role in making a positive change in the world.”

Treat yourself this weekend and make time to witness this spectacular show! I promise, you will leave your seat inspired to follow in Horton’s footsteps and make the world a better place! Show times are January 24 and 25 at 7:00pm and January 26 and 27 at 2:30pm. Tickets are available here!

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Sounds of the Season

With 16 musical performances on the district calendar for this month, December is one  of the busiest times of the year for our music educators. While this year is no exception – it marks an especially bittersweet season as Mr. Steven Waters prepares to retire at the end of this school year. He has been molding and shaping Jenison Elementary and Junior High students into accomplished performers for 23 years.

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Mr. Waters directs the Junior High Choirs and Sandy Hill Elementary School Honors Choir as they perform for the Sandy Hill students on their Christmas tour.

As the sounds of the season fill the air, Mr. Waters and the JH Choirs embarked on a Christmas tour for a day, making stops to perform at Bauerwood, Sandy Hill, and Pinewood Elementary Schools, as well as Holy Cross Church. The performers also included Elementary Honors Choir Members at their respective schools. In addition to evening concerts, the Christmas tour was another fun chance to show off what they’ve been working on this year, which always includes music of different challenges and styles (often other languages), new techniques and sounds (including ratchet, siren whistle and wood block!). The younger students always enjoy the opportunity to see and hear them perform.

Mr. Waters is in his 34th year as a music educator; team teaching the 7-9 grade Male Chorus and leading four choirs for girls at the Junior High. He also team teaches the Elementary Honors Choirs. Not only do I appreciate his technical expertise and leadership in our program, he is an invaluable member of our community with a strong vision to help students reach their highest potential (as soon to be adults).

I am so thankful that with his platform of music, Mr. Waters has worked tirelessly to establish relationships with students from the very beginning. This connection creates an atmosphere of trust allowing him to challenge students to reach for more and achieve more, musically and in life in general. I am confident we will see his influence for long after his last performance in this position. A sincere thank you to Mr. Waters for many years of dedicated service and I wish you the absolute best in your future endeavors!

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Mr. Waters has used his mastery of music and love for people to point students toward a successful future.

“If students have balance in their lives, they will be successful people, not just successful students, singers, or athletes. Our world needs caring, committed, and courageous people; people who aren’t afraid to take a stand for their community, their families, and themselves. It is my goal to use music as a hook to capture that vision.”

– Mr. Steven Waters

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The 7th grade girls choir visits the ECC

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Mr. Waters with his signature positive attitude and snazzy holiday tie on display!

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Diane Schrems, music teacher at the ECC presents Mr. Waters with a small token of appreciation

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JHS Fall Play: Robin Hood and The Heroes of Sherwood Forest

Months of hard work, late nights and intense creativity was unveiled this week on the great stage of the Jenison Center for the Arts. Director, Todd Avery and the Jenison High School Thespians kicked off their fall play season with preview performances of Robin Hood and the Heroes of Sherwood Forest. (Psst… you do not want to miss your chance to catch one of the remaining performances – visit www.jpsarts.com for tickets!)

Tuesday afternoon, our 4th, 5th and 6th grade students filled the JCA and were treated with a matinee of the show. It was encouraging to see our young students (and future thespians) soak in the show as a well behaved and responsive audience. The reviews are in and they gave it a whole lot of thumbs up! I wouldn’t be surprised if they talk their families into coming back this weekend. Wednesday was the first evening preview show open to the public.

132187678d09a945c320ce883c741291bfdba8b3Written by local playwright, Randy Wyatt, this fresh adaptation of the well-known English tale combines characters and elements from several medieval texts and gives it all a modern twist, emphasizing a community of heroes (men and women) rather than a one-man approach to heroism. Robin Hood and his friends—the hulking barbarian Little John, the kindhearted Friar Tuck, the sharpshooting woman-in-man’s clothing Scarlet, the jovial minstrel Alan-a-Dale and the retired soldier David of Duncaster—band together to save the poor people of Nottingham from unjust taxation and poverty at the hands of Prince John and his long-suffering yet cruel Sheriff. Two gypsy orphans, Maid Marion’s handmaiden and a mysterious stranger share a secret that could win the day—or see Robin hanged by morning!

The performance technique is a children’s theatre performance style, something Mr. Avery became very fond of during his time in college. Some of his best memories include working hard to make the story feel as if it was jumping off the page of a storybook. This is quite a departure from the Thespian projects of last year – he knew his students would need to be very intentional about the process. And they were, they proudly rose to the challenge. They portray a heartwarming story with plenty of action and humor! Another favorite he is excited for the students to share, is greeting the children from the audience, who for the last 90 minutes have been transported to another time and place. The storytelling power of theatre and its effect on people of all ages is remarkable; people come away very inspired by the magic being created before them on the stage.

132187889385c4fc2430ef45d42e6feb6c1bd66eAs with all Jenison High School Thespian productions, Robin Hood is entirely student-run with assistance from some staff members and many amazing volunteers overseeing other essential teams such as set design, costumes, lighting, and sound. BRAVO Cast & Crew! Another job well done showcasing your talent and dedication!

There are 5 more opportunities for you to catch this family friendly production this weekend. You will not want to miss it! Visit www.jpsarts.com for tickets

Written by Randy Wyatt |Directed by Todd Avery |Produced by special arrangement with Youth PLAYS

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Student Directed Plays Make a Big Splash!

41432736_692829421085471_1502936192197328896_oTeaching, acting and directing is second nature to Mr. Todd Avery, our very own Teacher/Director of Theatre Arts, and he’s always eager to share his love of the energetic, fast paced world of performing arts. When he joined our community 24 years ago, he dreamed of providing students with an outlet where they could create something on their own; with guidance, and inspire other students. He is beyond excited that he witnessed the dream come true and so proud that 24 years later, the program is still going strong.

41517292_692826804419066_4401504762936164352_o.jpgThe annual Festival of Plays kicked off the 2018-19 theatre season this past weekend. However, behind the scenes work has been going on for months. Student directors go to work on the project before school even adjourns for the summer. Mr. Avery acknowledges that directing a play/musical is no easy task and knows the students will be challenged and stretched in many ways. As one who has over 50 outstanding Jenison productions under his belt, he should know.

The student directors are charged with choosing a play, analyzing it, developing a concept and then persuasively presenting it to be chosen as part of the festival. If their play is chosen, they move forward with developing an audition plan, sit through a 3 hour audition process, negotiate with other students regarding casting decisions, and ultimately choose and notify the cast. That all sounds like a huge undertaking, but wait – learning lines and countless hours of rehearsals hasn’t even made the list yet!41477438_692828077752272_3499005213468000256_o-e1536801411220.jpg Student directors and stage managers for 2018 include Brandon Zink, Emma Byerwalter, Caden Hembrough, Hailie MacKay, Drew English, Isabelle England, and Alyssa Sumption. Most agreed that developing a summer rehearsal schedule and working around the 40+ cast members with time conflicts was the most challenging piece of the puzzle. They were also tasked with finding rehearsal space (usually a location in the director’s home), then worked to perfect their performances by the show deadline. 

 

festival-of-plays-7At the conclusion of this year’s Festival, Mr. Avery says, “The opportunity to problem solve, develop friendships, and build self-confidence are a few of the many benefits that a theater experience can provide and every year, I am pleasantly surprised by the independence demonstrated by the student directors. They take their jobs seriously and treat their actors with respect. I always stress that the rehearsal process should be fun, useful, and efficient. If the process is good, a good product is bound to follow. These kids grow together and support one another as they create some really good theatre. I couldn’t ask for anything more or be more proud of their work.” 

 

The students enjoy the process and learn so much. We are all very honored to have Mr. Avery in Jenison building up our students and helping them succeed on and off the stage. Keep reading to see what some of the students had to say about their experience…

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Jenison High School cast of “21 Chump Street” by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Director: Brandon Zink and Stage Manager Emma Byerwalter)

Brandon Zink, Senior – There’s no doubt that Jenison is the best when it comes to our theatre program. We are offered countless opportunities to showcase our talents, and the creative independence with these FoP shows is so rewarding. These student directed shows give you a taste of how there won’t always be an adult to hold your hand and guide your every move, we’re given the freedom to do what we want with our shows. I feel so thankful to go to a school that cares as much about the arts as Jenison does. The faith that Mr. Avery has in his thespians and their capabilities is outstanding and so beneficial to our growth as performers and all-around members of Thespian Troupe #5421.

Emma Byerwalter, Senior – We are so lucky to be provided with many different opportunities to learn and grow in the Jenison Theatre program. From plays and musicals, dance workshops, festival of plays, 24-hour play, and State Thespian Festival, our program really has it all! Plus, the other students I work with in this program are the absolute most kind hearted and genuine people I know! We support each other no matter what. I feel as if the students in this program are overwhelmingly inviting, we are brought together by a love of theatre and enjoy sharing it with as many people as possible.

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Jenison High School cast of “Last Night in London” by Kimberly Lew (Directors Drew English & Isabelle England and Stage Manager Alyssa Sumption).

Drew English, SeniorThanks to Mr. Avery and everyone else who has made this program possible.  It’s truly life-changing and I’ll never forget the memories I’ve made in theatre. Directing has taught me so much about all the work that goes into a show and has made me a more detailed person in all aspects of life. Theatre has taught me to slow down and live in the moment and that time goes by fast when you’re having fun.

Isabelle England, SeniorThe JHS theatre department is so amazing and for many more reasons than just one. I feel so incredibly blessed to have such an amazing director running the program. Mr.Avery and his vision for all the shows we do is amazing. He is so kind, funny and caring and he is just one reason this program is so amazing. I have worked on costumes for all 6 shows I have done, the upcoming play being my 7th, and I’ve not only learned how to sew but I’ve learned so many amazing life skills like leadership and conflict resolution, and how to work as a team. I’m really grateful for all the wonderful adults and all the kids that make the program so great.
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Jenison High School cast of “The Customer is Always Wrong” by Ian McWethy (Director Caden Hembrough and Stage Manager Hailie MacKay)

Caden Hembrough, SeniorThere’s no question Jenison Thespians are learning a lot about life from theatre. I think the biggest lesson we learn is responsibility. Theatre is both an individual and group effort. To learn to do your part on or off stage is what benefits everyone involved.
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BRAVO!! Hats off to Mr. Avery, all the student leaders and cast members who poured so much of themselves into these amazing shows! You are an amazing reflection of our Jenison community. Thank you to Bella Van Slyke and Emma Byerwalter for sharing their photos.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Comes to JPS!

This weekend you can get a jump start on Spring Break by visiting Paris in the late middle ages! [Don’t worry, it’s only for 90 minutes. No need to invest in a chamber pot.]

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a story originally written by Victor Hugo in 1831. The story was meant to raise awareness of the value of Gothic architecture [which was being destroyed for more “modern” designs] but it has, instead, become a well-known story of acceptance and morality.

The show is a combination of the 1996 Disney movie songs and the original story by Hugo. It will introduce audiences to Quasimodo, a misshapen man who was abandoned at the Cathedral as a baby, a Parisian judge named Claude Frollo who has reluctantly raised Quasimodo as his son but left him mostly alone in the old church. You will also meet Esmerelda, a kind gypsy woman who helps and befriends Quasimodo, setting off a complicated love triangle…or quadrangle… There is danger, adventure, as well as other difficult themes*.

Director Todd Avery saw an adaptation of the show when he was younger which inspired him to read the novel and “this heartbreaking story of the deformed bell ringer and his desire to be loved has been with me ever since.  The Disney cartoon is one of my favorites and as soon as I heard of the show’s availability, I jumped at the opportunity.  I’m proud to say that we are the West Michigan’s high school premier of “Hunchback.”  Not many theatre programs will be able to successfully mount this production.  It’s that difficult.”

Mr Avery knew this show would be a challenge for everyone involved – which is why he chose it! “I knew that it would be a challenge musically [both for the orchestra as well as the singers], and I knew that from a technical perspective it would be a challenge for all the crews involved.  We have to build a set that looks like the cathedral of Notre Dame, microphones for 35 actors, a full orchestra and a 30 person choir, projections, period props including a sword fight, as well as period costumes.  Lighting a full stage from back to front isn’t easy either.  I knew the production would test our limits [and it has], but I was confident that our students and their wonderful adult mentors would pull it off.”

The production is entirely student-run with assistance from some staff members and even more amazing volunteers leading the other essential teams such as set design, costumes, lighting, and sound.

Most of the students who serve on the set design team are seasoned crew members with JPS productions. They love getting to know new people, spending time with their friends, and yes, working hard! Brandon Sams has been part of the cast in former productions but wanted to try something new. He says that he likes getting to know both sides of the curtain but he especially enjoys their role of “running crew”. [These are the unsung heroes of the show, bustling to change the set between scenes and wearing black to blend in and go unseen.] “There’s an adrenaline rush to have to change the set.” But Brandon also wants other students to know that there is a place for them in any JPS production. “You make friends in theatre. Before the first show you might be anxious, but theatre is really welcoming, we’re a family.”

In typical Jenison Arts style, the dedication, talent, and grit required to pull this off will be very evident to audiences. “The show has a “community choir” made up of JHS students, Jenison residents, and JHS alumni.  Their dedication to learning this difficult score [rehearsals 1 – 2 evenings per week and some Saturdays since January] has impressed me tremendously.  Our talented cast has spent even more time learning their music [which is A LOT as there are very few moments without music in the show], and, under the musical direction of JHS thespian alum, Sarah Schrems, along with Jason Coffey, have been ready to perform for several weeks, exceeding their directors’ expectations.  Dan Scott has the orchestra, the largest we’ve ever had, in top shape!”

While this may not be the show to give you “warm fuzzies”, it will make you think. “This is a hard show to watch.  It has bad stuff happen to good people which is why we’ve recommended it for ages 12 and older.  However, the score is pure magic and the story has incredible themes relating to how we treat others, objectifying women, loss of innocence and the power of love.  It’s the Disney version’s songs but the Victor Hugo story, which does not have a happy ending.  It is an absolutely gorgeous show that will take your breath away.  Bring your tissues.”

Break a leg, cast + crew! Once again, we are amazed by the hard work and dedication of the Jenison Thespians and can’t wait to see your latest production!
You can get your tickets for this weekend here!

*Please note: The Hunchback of Notre Dame contains mature themes, simulated violence, and the deaths of some characters. Recommended for students 12 and older.

Junior High Theatre Gets Wild in Madagascar!

What happens when a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, a hippo, and a handful of penguins dance their way onto the Jenison stage this weekend? Adventure, of course! [With a side of silliness.]

Based on the animated motion picture, Madagascar – A Musical Adventure JR. follows all your favorite animal friends as they escape from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo and find themselves on an unexpected journey to Madagascar.

Muscial Director, Holly Florian says she is excited to bring this family-friendly story to Jenison audiences. When she was looking for this year’s musical, she was looking for a story that would incorporate a large cast and feature less separation between the leads and the ensemble. “It tells the students and audiences that everyone is important.”

And while the story is filled with music and fun, Ms Florian says the real story is the fact that the entire show is student-led. The stage managers are junior high students with high school students serving as coaches [a high school freshman “calls” the show with junior high students as her assistants]. The lighting crew and sound board are run by students with a faculty adviser present as a back up, but the students are responsible for what you see happening during the show. The set design and building is also done by students and Ms Florian says they usually have the best ideas for solving tricky problems with set design.

Last night parents of cast and crew members were invited to dress rehearsal and Ms Florian lets them know that, if they return for a show over the weekend, they won’t believe the amount of changes they’ll see between the different performances. Students are always looking for ways to improve, she says. “Students see the journey they’ve been on, how far they’ve come, and they see how they make each other better over time.”

Ms Florian says that she is intentional about giving students more opportunities to take ownership of the production.  In one instance, students were split up into small groups and one student was given responsibility to coach the others based on the directors ideas and critiques. They all came back having done exactly what she asked and was looking for. “They are capable, why not give them these opportunities? An important part of JPS Theatre is that kids are given the chance to take on leadership roles.”

And just like their counterparts in the High School, junior high thespians report that being part of the theatre community is a safe place to find belonging, make mistakes, learn together, and encourage one another. “Students always feel uncomfortable in the beginning so we only do team building exercises the first week. It creates an atmosphere of support, students feel safe, and relationships are built.”

We hope you will take time this weekend to witness their hard work on stage! If you’d like to see the show, you can get your tickets here!

Thank you, Ms Florian, for your dedication and leadership! Our students are stronger and more confident because of your belief in them and their abilities! Thank you, Jr High Musical cast and crew! We are inspired and encouraged by your willingness to be challenged and, because of that, shine on stage! Break a leg!

Choir Concert Wows Packed House

This past Tuesday night, the Jenison Center for the Arts was packed with friends and family members ready to be amazed by the vocal stylings of the Junior High Choir and the Elementary Honors Choir.

The Junior High Choir performed some great arrangements of familiar Christmas songs and some non-Christmas songs as well. Director, Steven Waters, says, “We always start the concert with all the choirs performing two songs from the Home Alone movies: Somewhere in my Memory [featuring our Elementary Honors Choir] and Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.”

Each of the individual Choirs then present their own two-song set and finally, the choirs came together again to close the concert with Silent Night/Night of Silence. Again, this features the Elementary Honors Choir and also features three soloists from the Bel Canto Choir [8th grade girls] and Male Chorus. The 7th and 8th grade girl choirs performs from out in the audience with the Elementary Honors Choir. “This concert features a unique audience experience in that they get to participate in the concert through the sing along songs and they get to “be” in the performance of the final song as the entire auditorium becomes the performance space.”

The Junior High Choirs are composed of students in separate grades, and divided by gender. The classes meet each day as part of the regular school day which helps them be particularly well prepared for this performance. They are also a wonderful group to work with and Mr Waters is proud of the characteristics they display as part of this team. “They are all very joyful in their music making on a daily basis! When each of the choir hours begin the energy is amazing and so fun. Our choir students are very affirming and encouraging to their choral staff [directors and accompanists] too. They are a wonderful group of students to work with and get to know on a regular basis.”

Mr Waters knows that choral education has many benefits beyond the performance stage. Students learn to develop their ability to work collaboratively and learn to take responsibility for the success of the entire group. “They have to develop the skill to hear whether a note is in tune or not and how to make that note fit into a multi-part chord. Music/choral/instrumental students learn that whatever they do from a musical AND behavioral standpoint has a consequence for everyone in their musical team. No person is an island in a music group, you are directly responsible for the success or failure of the group based on your personal work ethic.”

Choir students also have the opportunity to learn how to sing in a variety of languages: “Spanish, German, French, Swahili, Italian, Latin, the list is endless. When they learn how to pronounce and sing different languages, it definitely gives them an advantage when they go to learn to speak a given language.

They also develop aural skills and physical stamina. “Choir develops the “ear” for singing AND for playing instruments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen professionals who give master classes insisting that their instrumental students be able to sing whatever they want to play. I teach low brass instruments as a private instructor and my students know that they will be singing almost every lesson to some degree. They play better in tune and more accurately. And students with breathing challenges like asthma find that by taking choir, they develop more strength in their breathing muscles and more breath capacity when they learn to breathe as a vocalist. The choral students who participate in the sports programs frequently report improved performance after they learn how to breathe in this way too.”

Mr Waters adds that the musical community at Jenison is a safe place for students to find their place and have that sense of community benefit their entire learning experience. “Music does so much for the individual growth of each student. It also contributes to a feeling of community for many students who don’t always feel like they belong in their daily school day anywhere else. Students perform better in their other disciplines when they have an emotional investment in their school life and also if they have something in which they excel. Music education is a place where many students find their niche in school. When students find success in their music classes, then the teachers of the other disciplines can build on that to get the kids to improve in other areas. Music participation also contributes to the overall climate in the school. Music students are trained to behave in a supportive manner when they go to an event in an auditorium [like a concert] and this helps to build that feeling of community when you gather everyone together for assemblies and other events. ”

Thank you, Mr Waters and the entire Musical Department at JPS! Our students are becoming better learners and community members with you on their team! And thank you to our choirs for your hard work and dedication to learning and performing this valuable skill! We’re proud of you!