Full of Thanks and Giving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope this day finds you embracing the people and places that fill you up and enhance your life! I am thinking about my loving and supportive wife, terrific children and the blessing of a new grandson! I am also thankful for the supremely talented and committed group of educators I get to work with daily. Not only do they sharpen each other as they strive for academic excellence, they sincerely invest in the heart and character of our students.

This month marks the 21st year that our staff has been encouraging our students to think outside themselves, cultivate true gratitude and give with compassionate hearts through the “Your Change Can Change Hunger” fund drive (YCCCH). That means there have been several graduating classes that have participated every year of their time at JPS. It truly has become a holiday tradition that we all look forward to. Initiated by Susan Hodson, a mom with two elementary daughters that many years ago – it just goes to show, one person can make a big difference.

I’m so proud to share more about this year’s YCCCH fund drive and all the ways our amazing Jenison community is giving back this Thanksgiving!

Kids First Pet Supply Drive

We love to see the generosity of our students combined with a little entrepreneurial spirit! Two sixth grade El Puente students, Grace Roth (left) and Randi Pennington (right) brainstormed and organized a collection for the Harbor Humane Society during the month of October and delivered the donations earlier this month. So inspiring to see our students putting their compassionate hearts to work!

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Grace and Randi, and their KidsFirst classmates collected over 100 pounds of food, dog beds, blankets, a bag full of toys, multiple bags of treats, leashes, and food dishes.

Jenison Parent Liaisons

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Ms. Tracy and Ms. Veldink

The mission of the Jenison Parent Liaison program is: Building bridges between home, school, and community to promote student success for all families of Jenison Public Schools. One tangible way they do that is through organizing collections of things that can be used to support local families.

1) Ongoing collections of gently used, in-style, in-season clothing for community partner, Threads Clothing Ministry. Also, currently collecting snow pants (through the winter season) in partnership with Rosewood Reformed Church. This provides JPS families access to any type of clothing as needs arise. If you would like to donate clothes or snow pants, please drop items to the Family Resource Center (Room 1) at Pinewood Elementary.

2) They partner with Mars Hill Bible Church, Fair Haven Ministries, Baldwin Street Christian Reformed Church and Sunrise Ministries to provide Christmas and Thanksgiving Assistance for our families.

3) Now accepting donations for family activities in the area; such as bowling, Rebounderz, movie theatre, etc., to give to families to enjoy special together time over Christmas break. Donations can be brought to the Family Resource Center (Room 1) at Pinewood Elementary. 

1st Annual Turkey Trot 5k

An idea led by senior, Max Zuber; the Jenison Men’s Cross Country team hosted the first Jenison Turkey Trot 5k. It was a little more wintry when the race actually took place this past weekend but it was an overall success for their first year. The donation table ended up nearly overflowing and items were delivered to Love Inc.: the Turkey Trot is good for your heart in more ways than one!

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There were over 60 runners of all ages at the first ever Turkey Trot 5k!

Jenison Public Education Foundation

To keep our little ones warm and cozy in the coming months, the Jenison Public Education Foundation conducted a hat, mitten, sock drive at their Expo event on November 3. A donation competition between elementary schools revealed Pinewood as the winner. They won $250 for their school and a school assembly with a magician! Since 1995, JPEF has been enhancing learning environments and funded more than 162 programs valued at over $200,000, for the students of Jenison. 

National Honors Society Thanksgiving Baskets

The NHS members (high school juniors/seniors) organized a Thanksgiving basket program. They donated the items needed for a full thanksgiving meal for 10 Jenison families. They traveled together to deliver the food to each family on November 16.

Jenison High School Thespians – “Trick-r-Treat So Kids Can Eat”

Of course, the Thespians had fun dressing up and getting into character on Halloween but they also organized an event called “Trick-r-Treat So Kids Can Eat”. They had another great turnout this year with many donations brought in to keep members of our community fed this holiday season.

Your Change Can Change Hunger (YCCCH) benefiting Hand2Hand

This annual change fundraiser began in 1998 and is something the kids plan for each year. After a 15 year partnership with another food pantry in West Michigan, it shifted to a more local organization. Hand2Hand partners with local churches and schools to provide a backpack filled with supplemental food that bridges the gap of weekend hunger. When students became aware that their change was going to help kids in their own school district, possibly even their own building – giving sharply increased. The fervor with which students wanted to take care of their own is so inspiring! We keep breaking the previous year’s record for giving – and I think we’ll see that again this year.

Coming into the 2018 fund drive, JPS students have raised over $196,000 since 1998 – nearly half of that had been given in the last 5 years! While the final totals are still being counted, I think we can quite confidently say that we will pass the $200,000 mark this year! That’s amazing! Your Change really CAN Change Hunger!

Thank you so much Jenison students and families!

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ECC: Introducing our youngest Wildcats to this awesome and impactful tradition.

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El Puente students show off their own collection box. Excelente!

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Bauerwood Elementary students excited to hear the final count for the district!

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Pinewood Elementary Student Council with their cash donation.

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Rosewood 5th graders proudly show off their school’s contribution of over $1,700 this year!

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The Sandy Hill third graders surpassed their collection goal on the last day of the change drive. They raised over $150 on Friday alone so Mr. Mosher took some pies to the face!

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Bursley kids excited to give back to others.

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Junior High Students with a hefty donation to YCCCH! When the final count is confirmed, the JH hopes to break their current school record of over $10,000 dollars collected. It definitely seems within their grasp!  Many students have come up with creative collection ideas such as coffee/hot chocolate sales and candy & pop sales. Good old fashion  competitions against other classes in the building have really kept the excitement high!

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JH Students paid $1.00 towards YCCCH to play in the gym for 1 hour before school.

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The High Schoolers also had unique fundraising opportunities: here they are selling pizza at lunch time as a fundraiser for YCCCH.

If you would like to join Jenison Students by supporting the work of Hand2Hand, please visit their website for more information about how to get involved.

 

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!

Growing Old is Mandatory. Growing Up is Optional.

Tonight the curtain opens on another spectacular Jenison High School Musical: Peter Pan! Of course, the story of the boy who refuses to grow up, written by J.M. Barrie, is well-known and a ubiquitous part of pop culture. It first hit the Broadway stage in 1954 when it earned its first Tony Awards. JPS Thespian Director, Todd Avery, was thrilled to bring Peter Pan and the Star Catcher this fall as a prequel to this weekend’s big show and he hopes audiences who take in both productions see the subtle connections the shows have to offer.

Of course, the show will feature some fantastic special effects that everyone has come to expect from Peter Pan – flying! According to Mr Avery, “The biggest part of the show is the flying. I have a fantastic “flight crew” of students and alum who have taken on the responsibility to fly their classmates across the stage.  The actors who fly, have never done anything like this before and are executing very well while hovering 10 to 20 feet above the stage.  We have a series of safety checks, good leadership, and everyone is having fun. There’s plenty of special effects in the show besides the flying.  Tinkerbell darts across the stage, interacting with the Darling nursery.  We even have a special live appearance of everyone’s favorite fairy that I’ve added to the show.  Finally, the talent level of this great group of kids is amazing.  Audience members will forget they are watching high school students.”

This show features sets, props, and costumes that are entirely handmade by student teams, each assisted by an adult leader. The professional quality is a testament to many hard and long hours of work in the scene shop and costume shop.

Students grow in their confidence, abilities, and leadership qualities throughout the show preparation and production. Students with special needs are involved in the show and fellow students rally around them for support, unprompted by Mr. Avery or other adults. “Probably the most amazing growth I’ve encountered is in our Peter Pan, junior Ashley Postema. Her freshman year, Ashley worked with her mother, board member, Jen Postema on our scenery for Oklahoma.  I saw her in the shop every day and her work was beautiful.  Ashley is an accomplished artist with several entries appearing in galleries around West Michigan. She barely spoke to me and was a very shy young lady.  Now, here she is laughing and joking with me and has the title role in the show!  I’ve seen this happen again and again with various students over the years.”

Of course, each time a production is featured we hear from students that the theatre community is welcoming, open, and feels like a family. Mr. Avery works hard to set the tone for students but they take the reigns and welcome each other. “Since the beginning, I have stressed the collaborative elements of theatre.  Everyone is welcome here, no exceptions.  I’m proud to say that over the years we’ve had representatives from every social group at Jenison High School either onstage or backstage. Mutual respect is also important.  No matter how stressful things become, we all must do our best to listen and respect each other.  We continually build each other up.  It is amazing how a simple “thank you” or “good job” can change someone’s day. My biggest joy is hearing about students within our program bringing in other kids to the program because it is a safe place where they can be themselves, have support and have fun.”

Amazingly, the benefits and strengths of students participating in theatre  don’t stop when the curtain goes up. A 2012 study by Americans for the Arts shows that students with four years of high school theatre arts, visual art, and music classes have higher SAT scores than students with one half year or less. “There are dozens of studies like this one that prove that students involved in the arts gain problem-solving skills, self-confidence, a sense of belonging, speaking and organizational skills, as well as many other benefits. There are several studies showing that employers like to have theatre majors working for them because they are creative problem solvers who work well in groups and are confident in interpersonal interactions.”

This weekend, take some time to enjoy the talents, hard work, and community of the Jenison Thespians! They will inspire you and bring some magic while they’re at it. And of course, remember that Growing old is mandatory.  Growing up is optional.  Too many people lose touch with their inner child and forget how to have fun once they “grow up.”   They don’t take the time to look at the world through the eyes of a young person.  Of course, there are benefits to growing up, but when life is taken too seriously, something is being missed or sacrificed.  Play with your children.  Fight for your right to never grow up.”

Break a leg, JPS Theatre! We are always amazed by everything you do! [Psst! If you haven’t gotten you tickets yet, you can do so here!]

#JPSReads Comes Alive on Stage!

miii2248As a partnership to #JPSReads, the Junior High theatre department presents, James and the Giant Peach starting today and running through Sunday afternoon. We hope that families all over the district participated in the Read Aloud, JPSReads, earlier this school year and read the classic Roald Dahl story but if it’s new to you, don’t worry, it’s a heartwarming tale of an underdog you’ll love.

James is orphaned early in life and goes to live with his aunt who treats him as a servant, rather than a young boy. He soon meets a mysterious old man who offers him a magic bag of crocodile tongues that will make his life better. When James accidentally spills the tongues all over the ground, he is surprised to see an enormous peach grow on the sidewalk! The giant peach becomes a magical place of fantasy and friendship for James and, of course, you’ll need to read the book or buy a ticket this weekend to hear the rest!

miii2237When Director, Holly Florian, was anticipating this years musical, she considered the amazing batch of talent her students bring to the table. While the audience is aware that the actors on stage are junior high students, what they may not realize is that by the end of the weekend, the entire show is student-run. They are in charge of the lights, sound, stage management, direction, and set changes. They are assisted by a couple of high school students in their tasks but they act mainly in the role of mentor to these ambitious junior highers!

The cast auditioned back in mid-October and at the end of that month they began their rehearsals. Near showtime, they are rehearsing from 5-9pm every weeknight! Prior to the holiday break they have memorized all of their lines but Ms Florian encourages them from this point on to really let the characters become their own; to have fun with the lines and the story. She sees their potential and wants them to have the opportunitiy to shine as a result of their hard work and dedication.

miii2102Just like our high school students say year after year, Ms Florian believes that her students love being in the theatre program because it provides a sense of belonging and community. Students are able to meet new people and make friends with other students they may have never met otherwise. Because of this, she is especially pleased with the journey that James makes in this story. As the director, she is able to see the journey of students, their progress and self-confidence throughout the rehearsal season. By the end “it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come and that’s what this story is all about: self-confidence.”

If you’d like to see these talented students live, in action, you can purchase your tickets here. It’s a great opportunity to bring the book to life and remind your kids of the importance of and meaning found in reading and stories!

Break a leg, Junior High students! We know you will be incredible, not only this weekend, but always!

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Peter Pan Has a Prequel? Of Course it Does!

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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.”

miii4226It’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.

miii4287As 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!

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#JPSReads!

1448499790-4841895-james_giant_peach_ticketsWhen 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.

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Story brainstorming in Mary Veldink’s 3rd grade Pinewood classroom

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!

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*Photo courtesy of goldstar.com

JHS Theatre Says, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” in Shrek the Musical

MIII2429Last week the Jenison Thespians amazed audiences with their talent and passion in their performance of Shrek the Musical!

MIII1804The 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…”

MIII1744Director 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.”

MIII2136Freshman, 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.”

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew of Shrek! We are proud of your talents and we love letting our freak flag fly!MIII1765

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JH Theatre Tackles Once Upon a Mattress

MIII4394Taking the classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, to another level, Once Upon a Mattress was this year’s Jenison Junior High musical production!

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!]

MIII4138But 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.

MIII4240The 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!

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JHS Theatre Presents: Oklahoma!

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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“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!

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