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.

#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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Michigan Supreme Court Visits Jenison!

MIII9140Last week the Jenison Center for the Arts was the site of an oral hearing of the Michigan Supreme Court. 1300 Ottawa County high school students, nominated by their teachers, were present for the arguments presented by legal council for both parties. Although the state’s highest court will take a couple of weeks to make a ruling this was a very unique opportunity for the students and the community of Jenison to host this important part of the judicial process.

MIII8975The visit came to fruition after the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office applied through Court Community Connections, a public education program begun by the Court in 2007. The case before the Court was Peter Deacon vs Pandora, the online music streaming site, whom Mr Deacon believes violated his state’s privacy rights when they sold his information to Facebook.

Superintendent Tom TenBrink was very proud to host this amazing event. “To see the Supreme Court in action right here in Ottawa County is a tremendous opportunity.” After the oral arguments were presented audience members were invited to ask questions during a Q & A session with the Justices and attorney’s and representatives from each visiting school were also able to join the justices for an intimate luncheon prior to the hearing.

185 Jenison students were invited and Celia Webers, Jenison junior, says that while they learn the basics of the court system in class “this is really good to be able to apply it and be in what we’re learning. We learn the terms but we don’t know how it works.”

Senior Parmida Davarmahesh is considering a future in law and was excited to be part of this once in a lifetime experience. “It really exposes me to how the court works and what my job and future career, if I become a lawyer, will look like.”  And junior James Groelsma adds that in class they are able to study the more well-known cases but this gave them the opportunity to study a case that’s a little more abstract, albeit timely. “It’s cool be part of something that hasn’t been decided yet. It’s not a clear decision; it’s an argument.”

MIII8966Mr Abram Brosseit, Government and Social Studies teacher, sees this as a great opportunity to honor Jenison students who have shown an interest in political science. “We want to give them the chance to see what it looks like in a world outside the classroom. A lot of students have come to me over the last few months as they know more of the facts of the case, they’re understanding that there’s arguments to be made on both sides and I’ve seen students really engaging in critical thinking in a very applied way. This isn’t an abstract question on a test, this is happening in front of them.”

We are very proud to not only host the MI Supreme Court Justices at the JCA, but especially the students and teachers who gained invaluable insight into the judicial process that happens around them every day.

Thank you to the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office and the MI Supreme Court for involving our students in your work!

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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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The Holiday Season is Time for the Arts!

With Thanksgiving just a week away and Christmas less than a month after that, our world is knee-deep in holiday plans. We create lists for groceries we need to buy, meals and cookies to make, cards to send and gifts to wrap. But in the midst of the flying reindeer and “silver bells,” wonderful celebrations are happening at Jenison Public Schools, too.

This week we’d like to highlight some of the very special events coming up across the district before the New Year, with arguably the most anticipated being the grand opening of Jenison Public Schools Center for the Arts!

Jenison Public Schools, Fine Arts Center

When this blog began over 100 weeks ago, we were just beginning to talk about this building — this dream — that we had for our students and our community. But when the time came to break ground, we got right to work. Now, looking back at photos from the summer of 2012, it’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come.

On behalf of the district, we’d like to invite you to one, or all, of the events that we have planned for the week after Thanksgiving. Whether it means attending the sneak peek, the ribbon cutting ceremony or the open house, we’d love to have you join us for this special moment in our collective history. Please see the image above for times.

Finally, please mark your calendars for these other exciting arts events. Because this list is not intended to be comprehensive, we encourage you to contact your child’s building leadership for concert times not included below.

JENISON HIGH SCHOOL HOLIDAY EVENTS: All located at Jension Center for the Arts (JCA)

12/10, 8 pm  Bands Christmas Concert

12/13-14, 7 pm  Festival of Plays

12/18, 7:30 pm  Choir/Orchestra Concert (Concert Orch, Sinfonia, Concert Choir)

12/19, 7:30 pm  Choir/Orchestra Concert (Symphony & Chamber Orchestra, Chorale, Advanced Women’s Choir, Chamber Choir)

JENISON JUNIOR HIGH HOLIDAY EVENTS: AT JCA

12/4, 7:30 pm  Jr High Choir Christmas Concert and Male Chorus

12/9, 7 pm  Jr High Orchestras

12/10, 6:30 pm  Jr High Bands

ELEMENTARY EVENTS: ALL AT JCA

**Elementary Honors Choir with Jr. High Choirs 12/4, 6:15 pm**

Bauerwood | 12/12, 7:30 pm  3rd, 4th, 5th grade

Bursley | 12/13, 7 pm 3rd, 4th, 5th grade (with Bursley Choir)

Pinewood | 12/11, 7:30 pm 3rd, 4th, 5th grade

Rosewood | 12/17, 7:30 pm 3rd, 4th, 5th grade (and choir students)

Sandy Hill | 12/16, 7:30 pm 3rd, 4th, 5th grade (and Spotlight Choir)

Reflections on Christmas

With Jenison students now on vacation and Christmas Day drawing closer, I’ve had some quiet moments to ponder how fortunate we were to have had the carpet rolled out, if you will, in preparation for this holiday.

The past two weeks have been packed with wonderful concerts at every level, starting at our elementary schools and being topped off at the high school. Each time I have the privilege of hearing our vocalists, choirs, bands, and orchestras, I am reminded of the high standards of our programs and the quality and dedication of our fine instructors.

These concerts also fill me with gratitude. We are entirely thankful to you, the community, for passing a bond that will one day allow our young musicians to perform at home rather than at an off-campus venue. While we have been blessed to have held our Christmas concerts at Fair Haven Ministries over the years, we look forward to a day when we will have a Performing Arts Center of our own.

…And that truly deserves an “Hallelujah”!

Fine Arts Center Groundbreaking Ceremony

Before a crisp October football game this fall, we had the pleasure of manually scooping the first shovelfuls of dirt in our performing arts ground-breaking ceremony. Our deep gratitude goes out to you, the community, for approving the 1.05 mil bond proposal last spring and making these improvements possible.

After years of renting churches and other venues to house our concerts, I am thrilled at the thought of having a place of our own to showcase the many talents of our students. Thank you!