Before you see Jenison theatre perform “Peter Pan” this winter, you’ll want to know the back story, of course!
Director and theatre teacher, Todd Avery, has been waiting to perform “Peter and the Star Catcher” for three years, ever since he saw it performed in Chicago and watched it win five Tony Awards in 2012. He was drawn to the unique qualities of the show including wonderful opportunities for an ensemble cast, creative scenery and the need for the audience to participate through their imagination. “Everything is very suggested. For example, we don’t have swords that we fight with, we fight with plungers. The actors create a ship with just a big piece of rope and their bodies and a couple crates, so the concept is just really interesting. It’s a unique way of storytelling and it’s a style called Story Telling Theatre.”
It’s not a traditional show where the actors play a single role. In this show, the actors are playing multiple roles, keeping track of where they need to be at all times and even wearing multiple costumes on top of each other!
While the winter musical performances are stories told through music, this weekend’s show is a “play with music” and students filling this role had very challenging music to master. All of the music is performed by a pianist and percussionist providing exciting sounds that take on a character of its own.
Sophomores Emma Byerwalter and Caden Hembrough play the leading roles of Molly and Peter respectively and are both alums of the theatre program beginning in junior high and taking on their biggest roles to date with this show. Emma loves her character and says it’s her favorite of her theatre career, so far. “Molly is confident, strong-willed and down to earth.” Caden says that he enjoys playing Peter who starts off being quiet and mad at the world and builds confidence and leadership skills throughout the show.
As so many other theatre students have said in the past, the Jenison theatre community has meant “everything” to Emma and Caden. “You make friends with everyone and they all count on each other. There’s no exclusion.” says Caden. Emma adds, “It’s a really open community. No matter who you are, you are welcome here.”
Mr Avery knows that this group of students is ready and well prepared to tackle this challenging and entertaining show. “I knew this was going to be a particularly challenging show and I saw some great things in [these students] the last couple of years, even back in junior high, and I knew they could do it. And they’ve risen to the challenge and it’s like nothing they’ve ever done before.”
If you’d like to spend some time this weekend getting to know the beginning stories of Peter Pan, Wendy and the rest of the Peter and the Star Catcher crew, check ticket availability and purchase them here.
Break a leg, Jenison Thespians! We can’t wait to see you shine!
When Junior High theatre director, Holly Florian, chose James and the Giant Peach for this year’s winter performance fifth grade teachers, Michelle U’Ren knew that she wanted to read the classic story aloud to her class. She knew it would help them appreciate the show even more to be familiar with the story.
But it didn’t stay specific to Ms U’Ren’s class! It didn’t take long before a district-wide project was born! Other teachers were interested in reading the story to their classes as well and and soon, Holly, Michelle, and Jan Staley, media specialist, were organizing the first ever district-wide read aloud, which came to be known as JPS Reads!
All of the teachers are encouraged by the response so far. “The feedback from teachers, students, and parents has been really positive. Perhaps the most exciting part is hearing the connections being made at home! There are many stories of families discussing James and the Giant Peach during dinner and younger kids begging older siblings to tell them what happens next in the story.“
When Ms Florian was considering scripts for the junior high performance she was excited about the visual and production challenges posed by James and the Giant Peach. “[It] stood out to me right away as being a fantastic option – the story is so wonderful, and the stage version has many featured roles, which gives lots of students a chance to show off their performing skills. It will also be a technical challenge! Figuring out how to create a giant peach that rolls off the cliffs of Dover and into the Atlantic ocean is going to be a creative challenge for the entire production team.”
Not all teachers had a copy of the book but thanks to a grant from the Jenison Public Education Foundation, those teachers were provided a copy. Even our Spanish Immersion classrooms are reading the story in Spanish! In order to empower teachers, weekly emails are sent to participants offering suggestions for activities and ways to connect with other teachers in the project. Each individual teacher can choose which activities they would like to implement within their own classroom. Lori Barr, Pinewood 6th grade teacher, is engaging students’ writing skills by having them write blog posts with their thoughts and questions. Check out their Letters to Ms Florian here!
If you have ever wondered if reading at home matters, it does! “Statistics have shown that a powerful predictor of reading success is having a parent who personally reads aloud to their child 5–7 days a week. Our community read aloud, JPS Reads, will hopefully ignite the joy of reading and the community bond it builds within the classroom family…the hope is that this will then be talked about and become part of our individual family habits also.”
Congratulations to all the teachers, students and families who participated in the first JPS Read Aloud! We can’t wait for the play this January!
*Photo courtesy of goldstar.com
If you’ve been to a Jenison football game at home you’re no stranger to the impressive talents of the marching band! This year is no exception as the band tackles the theme of ‘Valkyries’ who, according to Norse mythology, are female figures who fly over battles and decide who lives and dies. Those who are chosen to die are welcomed to the afterlife, or Valhalla.
The color guard will play the role of the Valkyries choosing their “victims” from the 153 members of the band. Director, Dave Zamborsky, develops, choreographs and arranges the performance from scratch. The first part of the show is set on a battlefield, the middle portion is when the soldiers are being slain and the first fallen soldiers being chosen and the show concludes with the final soldiers ascending into Valhalla.
But, of course, a production of this size can’t come together overnight. While you may have been sunning yourself at the beach this summer the Jenison marching band was busy training. They did a two day camp in June to learn marching basics and some show music. In July they spent their Monday and Tuesday evenings for three weeks learning music while the color guard worked toward a dance recital that was performed at the JCA. The first week in August they spend in pre-camp camp at Jenison [4 days, 8 hours a day] and then they travel to Hope College to spend another week training and bonding as a group. And finally, they spent 4 days in post-camp. Exhausted yet? Thankfully, the members of the band are happy to work hard and be part of the team. “The band gives a lot of students a community of belonging here at Jenison High School that they might not find elsewhere.”
The football schedule was a little unique this year with the first home game on August 25 – well before school began – but the marching band was there, debuting the first portion of their Valkyries performance. In fact, each home game, the band will reveal a little more of the performance as they continue to learn and develop the choreography and musical content. “Part of what makes the fact that we’re a competitive band different [is that] we’re working on one show over the course of the whole season, really trying to enhance it and increase our production value throughout the season and, obviously, perfect it by the time we’re finishing our season.”
“We work on dance and body movements with the kids in the band because we’re expecting them to move in ways that are not traditional marching band; we’re expecting them to emote and put character into the show in ways that are more like theatre.”
The marching band has already begun it’s competition season with the Rockford Marching Band Invitational where they took home 1st place in their class in the categories of music, visual, color guard and they were named Grand Champion! On October 1 they are travelling to Toledo, OH for the Regional competition before moving on to Indianapolis for Nationals. But before they can conquer Nationals they will be at Detroit’s Ford Field on November 7 for state championships where they are looking to avenge their nail biting, second place loss [.05 points!] to band rival, Reeths-Puffer.
Marching band is about more than learning music; it’s a place for students to learn life skills.”I think the kids tend to form a very strong bond. As much as our focus is on music, it’s also on building a team and learning how to work together, be disciplined and mature. One of the things that make us different than groups that are playing a sport is that [the students] have eight and a half minutes of pretty complex musical and visual responsibility that all has to be memorized and if you zone out for a minute, we’re going to see it.”
Of course, none of the band activities would be possible without the support of the Jenison Band Boosters. Props used by the band and show flags used by the color guard are being built and sewn by parents. They chaperone camps and trips as well as organize and run the Jenison Invitational in mid-October which is the largest marching band competition in the state outside of state championships with 44 performances. If you’d like to find a way to support the Boosters’ efforts please visit their website here.
Be sure to check out the Valkyries performance at Homecoming – the last home game of the season – on Friday, October 7! Go Wildcats!
The story in the musical version is very similar to the movie from 2001 we all know and love with a few minor changes and song additions. Shrek is an ogre who finds solace in a lonely swamp until it is invaded by ousted fairy tale characters from Lord Farquaad’s kingdom when he deems them “freaks.” But Shrek doesn’t want them either. Preferring his solitude to a overly crowded neighborhood, Shrek visits Farquaad to convince him to take the characters back. Farquaad decides to let Shrek rescue Princess Fiona who has long been trapped by a ferocious dragon in return for his swamp. Along the way, Shrek is saddled with Donkey, a chatty but charming compatriot in his adventure. Fiona is less than impressed with her rescuer and even less so with Farquaad and through a continued series of songs, fun and love, Shrek and Fiona end up together and the fairy tale characters get their new home after all. You could say “they live happily ever after…”
Director Todd Avery hopes to spread the message about individuality being accepted and celebrated which is a main theme of the production. “As the song, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” indicates, EVERYONE has something “freakish” about them and those traits should be celebrated and not suppressed. People [or in this case, fairy tale creatures] are different. However, those differences are a GOOD thing and shouldn’t be judged by others.”
There are many behind the scenes teams including set design and construction, sound and tech, pit orchestra, costume design, hair and makeup and stage management. Kelsey Shannon is a senior who is the crew leader for the hair and make up team and enjoys being part of productions and the ability to be yourself. “Nobody’s judged, everyone’s accepting because you share the same passion.”
Freshman, Ashley Hillson, playing the role of Princess Fiona loves being part of Jenison Theatre and makes her return to the stage after playing Arial in the Little Mermaid in last year’s Junior High musical. “The friendships you make here are so cool. Rehearsal doesn’t even feel like rehearsal anymore, it’s just everyone hanging out.”
Playing Shrek is senior Jacob Helm who says, “I feel like letting your freak flag fly is really important because it’s letting you show who you truly are, especially in theatre, which is why I think it’s so cool that we’re doing this show. This is a place where we’re allowed to be who we really are without being judged.”
Ashley adds, “Anytime you are yourself people end up accepting you more and you end up finding the people who are like you and when you’re yourself you’re a lot happier. No matter what you’re part of, just be willing to stay true to yourself and not feel like you need to be fake or hide.”
The story centers around 15th century Prince Dauntless and his mother’s ruling that no one in their [imaginary] medieval kingdom shall marry until he does. Despite the fact that Princess Winnifred wins his heart, his mother is less than impressed, something many modern women can relate to as well! Winnifred is put to the final test of sleeping on a stack of twenty mattresses with a pea and when she wakes disheveled and less than refreshed Prince Dauntless [and the rest of the kingdom] rejoice! [Of course, there are various antics involved — love never works out just that easily!]
But this choice of musical wasn’t just for the fun and silliness of a fairy tale retold. According to Director, Holly Florian, it was also about teaching students about life in the 15th century, gender roles, as well as the importance of speaking up in the face of adversity. “Princess Winnifred is great example of someone who is confident in who she is, despite facing pressure from those around her to meet their expectations for her life [and getting more than a few strange looks from the people around her when she doesn’t meet their expectations]. Her influence allows Prince Dauntless to grow in self-assurance and ultimately to stand up to his overbearing mother and break the curse that has caused so much strain in the kingdom. The fact that one person can have such a powerful influence on the world around them is something that I think everyone can learn from, and a lesson that is especially powerful for the young students that were in this year’s production.”
Junior High students auditioned back in October and have been participating in rigorous rehearsals since early November. Students led crew, lighting, did most of the hair styling and makeup as well as set design and costume changes.
The vocals in Once Upon a Mattress can be extremely challenging and with the ever-changing needs of Junior High students and their voices, it was important for the cast and directors to stay flexible and make changes when needed. Despite those challenges, the cast performed four strong shows, the first time a junior high production has held four! Ms Florian says she is particularly proud of their consistency throughout each performance.
The cast also faced the challenge of understanding the mindset of this very different time in the world. One thing that “can be difficult in this show is getting the cast to understand why there is so much frustration over Prince Dauntless needing to be married before anyone else can get married. This is a key point in the story but isn’t necessarily something Jr. High kids can really relate to. During rehearsals we were able to explore the role of marriage in this time period. For the girls, getting married was their only option – without a husband, they had nothing. Once the cast members understood what life was like at this time, it made their expressions and actions on stage easier to understand. One of the coolest things about working on a show is the many opportunities for cross-curricular study and the interesting discussions that result. Acting is not just about randomly selecting a facial expression or reaction or just pretending to be someone else. You have to really understand the whole story in order to make it believable for the audience.”
The show was a success, due in large part to the varied experiences of the cast and crew. Some are involved in community theatre, while others had never set foot on a stage. Ms Florian stresses that students are selected based on their ability to model respect, hard work, the ability to follow directions and have a positive attitude are all equally important in a Jenison production. And they did not disappoint the staff nor the audiences: “I think people are always blown away when they see our productions because they can’t believe that the kids are only in Junior High. I’ve always believed that kids this age are capable of just about anything. You just have to set the bar high and give them clear expectations right from the beginning and they will meet – or even exceed – the expectations every time.”
Thank you to all of our cast, crew and staff that came together so amazingly to entertain our community! Your talent and perseverance is inspiring!
Thank you to both Mr Scott + Professor Duitman for bringing together these two very talented groups of musicians! Students, we’re so proud of your talent and hard work! Keep it up!
Once again, the Jenison High School Thespians wowed the community with their talents at this year’s High School Musical: Oklahoma! While many younger people may not be familiar with the story of this beloved musical, it was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein and first debuted on Broadway in 1943. It is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906 and tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance features cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie. According to Director, Todd Avery, “This is such a great story with many fun characters and a musical score that is unmatched in American musical theatre history. This was our first production in the JCA without any “gimmicks” or special effects. All we had was a wonderful story. We worked very hard to create characters who were believable and engaging to our audience.”
Hundreds of students are involved in these annual productions and include the pit orchestra, sound and lighting teams, set construction and design, makeup artists and hair stylists, stage crew and, of course, the actors. Says Mr Avery, “I am always inspired by my students. They are eager to learn and try new things. Aside from myself, some parent assistance, our costume designer, Nancy Korth, and our musical directors, Kim Nagy, Diane Schrems, and Carol Johnson, our program is completely run by our students. Under adult supervision and guidance, our students and their student crew leaders make costumes, build sets, find and make props, run the lights and design sound for every show. There are very few theatre programs in Michigan, let alone the country, that can claim that their program is student centered. My students and I take a great deal of pride in that. Jenison students are always up to the challenge!“
Senior, River Gibbs, served behind the scenes as Stage Manager for the tenth time with Oklahoma! After working on The Wizard of Oz, River feels that every show is less technical but concedes that there are large set pieces to build, move and maneuver that pose their challenges. River’s responsibilities as Stage Manager begin months before the show even starts rehearsals. He reads and analyzes the script, creates a props list, set list and many “massive spreadsheets” for preparation. During rehearsals he is facilitating scene changes, organizing crew leaders and communicating with the orchestra as the actors and musicians practice working together. “I’ve learned more doing this than I will doing a lot of other things in life because you learn how to build, design, work with other people — you learn so many new skills. I’ve started to learn how to read music too because I think that’s a really important skill for a stage manager to have, you get a little taste of a lot of things.” River will take his passions for stage managing and the skills he’s learned at Jenison High School to pursue stage production and is thinking about attending Whittier College in Whittier, California where he was awarded a full scholarship.
Makenzie Schnieder, also a senior, may not be planning a career of makeup and hair but she certainly knew how to lead her team of stylists as they prepared each actor for rehearsals and performances. Carefully inspecting everyone’s work and offering suggestions and critique before approving them to hit the stage she says that becoming involved in the theatre program was “one of the best decisions” she ever made. She served on the makeup team for five shows before stepping up to the role of Makeup Crew Leader for the past two shows. “I was really inspired by our other crew leaders and I thought, “I want that to be me” so last year I worked really, really hard with the Crew Leader — I made sure I was always by her side, learning new techniques and I worked really hard to prove myself” and Mr Avery saw that hard work. She loves to do “crazy makeup” and while Oklahoma! doesn’t provide a lot of opportunities for “crazy makeup” she is enthusiastic about creating a scar on one of the actors “which not everyone knows how to do”. One of her main responsibilities is develop the character designs for all the actors, deciding how old they are, what their hairstyle and makeup will look like and while “this show isn’t as much about design as it is about what fits the character”, she is certainly passionate about her work. She can also add “teacher” to her list of skills because once Makenzie designs the looks for the entire show she shows her team how to execute each style.
And no theatre production would be complete without sets and set design which is all lead under the careful eye of Junior Jason Jipping who acts as the Set Crew Leader for Oklahoma! Jason has served on the set crew for three shows and this is his second turn as Crew Leader. The responsibilities range from keeping everyone safe during construction and moving of the sets to staying on schedule to constructing the set elements from blue prints. “We build the sets and make sure we’re working on not only the structure itself but looking at the fine details.” Jason manages 7 — 10 crew members who are also in charge of moving set pieces at specific times and assigning crew members to very specific tasks during the show. Being part of the show “was definitely worth the time. I quit my job to do this and it was probably one of the best choices I’ve made.”
“We were very happy and proud to give back to our seniors at Wednesday nights’ performance. It was amazing to see the house full of people laughing and singing along with us. To see our actors interacting with them in the lobby after the show was something I will never forget. Also, with the help of Carrie DeBruyn, we were able to honor the Jenison High School casts of OKLAHOMA! from 1970, 1977, and 1984. It was incredible to see former cast members mingling with current cast members. There was laughter and tears of joy as many mini – reunions took place throughout the lobby. We are proud to be a part of the Jenison Community, grateful for our new home, and will continue to provide quality theatre experiences for all.” — Mr Todd Avery
Congratulations to the entire Theatre team at Jenison High School!
Thank you for your incredibly hard work and dedication to giving your best each and every time!
Last week, Jenison Junior High hosted their annual Student Showcase benefiting Hand2Hand Ministries and had more than 350 guests! Through their special soup dinner and Be Nice doorway campaign a little more than $1500 was donated to the local organization. Hand2Hand partners with local schools and churches to provide meals for students in need over the weekends. The money raised at the Student Showcase will go to benefit the 2900 students in the Hand2Hand program.
Each year the event grows to include new elements for visitors to enjoy and this year was no exception. Aside from the soup dinner the Student Showcase highlighted many fine arts groups including the band, orchestra and choir solos. Guests could watch a recap video spotlighting the East Coast Trip for 8th graders and enjoy displays from various clubs and Science Olympiad. Two basketball games were added this year as well and according to Junior High Vice Principal, Heather Breen, “Our musical performances, theatre monologues, Language Arts Coffee House, Art Club murals, Photography Club displays and Craft Cafe projects were all highlights of the evening. People lined up to see these student performances!”
Once again, the Be Nice initiative was showcased as well. Students involved in the Be Nice club organized a classroom doorway decorating competition fundraiser for Hand2Hand Ministries. They also helped promote Student Showcase by creating posters and flyers advertising the events. The Student Congress and Lead On groups were also essential in the behind the scenes preparation, advertising, decorating, greeting, serving, collecting money and cleaning up. The Lead On students even wrote a grant to underwrite costs of the event!
Ms Breen adds, “I would like to thank our Jenison families and community for their ongoing support of our students, programs and events. I believe that this event continues to be a success due to the overwhelming support of our staff, families and the Jenison community.”
Congratulations to all Junior High students and faculty involved with Student Showcase! It is truly a special way for the community to learn and appreciate all of your diverse talents and interests! We’re proud of you!
It may have felt like mid-January outside the JCA last week but inside Jenison Junior High theatre students were bringing the tropics home with their production of Disney’s, The Little Mermaid! Directed by Holly Florian, this was the second musical presented by the Junior High since the opening of the Jenison Center for the Arts last year.
For Ms. Florian, choosing this year’s show was an easy decision: “Coming off of Mulan last year there was a lot of positive feedback about Disney shows and we knew The Little Mermaid would be a good one to continue the excitement for the Junior High program and people recognizing that these kids can do great things too.” The 60 Junior High students were supported by High School theatre volunteers and elementary students who have auditioned to fill the smaller roles.
Arial was played by 8th grader, Ashley Hillson, who is growing up in a musical home singing alongside her mom who plays the piano. She loved “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid when she was little so she was excited to be awarded the lead role. She admits that it can be a challenge to balance her time between rehearsal, school and spending time with her family but she loves seeing the show come together.
Arial’s guardian is, of course, the precocious Sebastian played by theatre veteran, Zach Avery. Zach was excited to be part of a show that uses more complicated sets which includes a giant ship and dramatic backdrops. He got used to his giant claws by practicing with oven mits!
In the fall, close to 100 students came forward to audition to be part of the musical and Ms. Florian says that she would like to see the program continue to grow, include more students every year and provide opportunities to showcase the talent of the Junior High.
Ashley, Zach and Ms. Florian would also like to encourage any students who may be thinking about getting involved but finding themselves with cold feet. While auditions can seem intimidating the teachers help make it comfortable by breaking up the acting and singing portions and teachers give advice. “I feel strongly that at this point in their acting careers, for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve done this, they need some front-loading, they need some coaching.” [Ms Florian] The auditions are seen as an environment for learning about the characters possible actions and feelings and it’s exciting to see the students growth from that early starting point.
Ashley and Zach are both appreciative of the theatre training they are receiving at Jenison. “I feel like all the kids that are in the theatre program are inspired by their older peers, so a lot of the students are helping each other. There’s a lot of cooperation and friendship with the students.” Ashley adds, “I feel like we have something really extraordinary here.”
If you are a junior high student with an interest in learning about the theatre program or getting involved you can participate in Theatre Club that meets once a week starting in late February. Contact Ms. Florian and listen for an announcement for details.
Congratulations to the entire cast and crew of The Little Mermaid! All of our theatre students continue to make our entire community proud!