Teaching, acting and directing is second nature to Mr. Todd Avery, our very own Teacher/Director of Theatre Arts, and he’s always eager to share his love of the energetic, fast paced world of performing arts. When he joined our community 24 years ago, he dreamed of providing students with an outlet where they could create something on their own; with guidance, and inspire other students. He is beyond excited that he witnessed the dream come true and so proud that 24 years later, the program is still going strong.
The annual Festival of Plays kicked off the 2018-19 theatre season this past weekend. However, behind the scenes work has been going on for months. Student directors go to work on the project before school even adjourns for the summer. Mr. Avery acknowledges that directing a play/musical is no easy task and knows the students will be challenged and stretched in many ways. As one who has over 50 outstanding Jenison productions under his belt, he should know.
The student directors are charged with choosing a play, analyzing it, developing a concept and then persuasively presenting it to be chosen as part of the festival. If their play is chosen, they move forward with developing an audition plan, sit through a 3 hour audition process, negotiate with other students regarding casting decisions, and ultimately choose and notify the cast. That all sounds like a huge undertaking, but wait – learning lines and countless hours of rehearsals hasn’t even made the list yet! Student directors and stage managers for 2018 include Brandon Zink, Emma Byerwalter, Caden Hembrough, Hailie MacKay, Drew English, Isabelle England, and Alyssa Sumption. Most agreed that developing a summer rehearsal schedule and working around the 40+ cast members with time conflicts was the most challenging piece of the puzzle. They were also tasked with finding rehearsal space (usually a location in the director’s home), then worked to perfect their performances by the show deadline.
At the conclusion of this year’s Festival, Mr. Avery says, “The opportunity to problem solve, develop friendships, and build self-confidence are a few of the many benefits that a theater experience can provide and every year, I am pleasantly surprised by the independence demonstrated by the student directors. They take their jobs seriously and treat their actors with respect. I always stress that the rehearsal process should be fun, useful, and efficient. If the process is good, a good product is bound to follow. These kids grow together and support one another as they create some really good theatre. I couldn’t ask for anything more or be more proud of their work.”
The students enjoy the process and learn so much. We are all very honored to have Mr. Avery in Jenison building up our students and helping them succeed on and off the stage. Keep reading to see what some of the students had to say about their experience…
Jenison High School cast of “21 Chump Street” by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Director: Brandon Zink and Stage Manager Emma Byerwalter)
Brandon Zink, Senior – There’s no doubt that Jenison is the best when it comes to our theatre program. We are offered countless opportunities to showcase our talents, and the creative independence with these FoP shows is so rewarding. These student directed shows give you a taste of how there won’t always be an adult to hold your hand and guide your every move, we’re given the freedom to do what we want with our shows. I feel so thankful to go to a school that cares as much about the arts as Jenison does. The faith that Mr. Avery has in his thespians and their capabilities is outstanding and so beneficial to our growth as performers and all-around members of Thespian Troupe #5421.
Emma Byerwalter, Senior – We are so lucky to be provided with many different opportunities to learn and grow in the Jenison Theatre program. From plays and musicals, dance workshops, festival of plays, 24-hour play, and State Thespian Festival, our program really has it all! Plus, the other students I work with in this program are the absolute most kind hearted and genuine people I know! We support each other no matter what. I feel as if the students in this program are overwhelmingly inviting, we are brought together by a love of theatre and enjoy sharing it with as many people as possible.
Jenison High School cast of “Last Night in London” by Kimberly Lew (Directors Drew English & Isabelle England and Stage Manager Alyssa Sumption).
Drew English, Senior – Thanks to Mr. Avery and everyone else who has made this program possible. It’s truly life-changing and I’ll never forget the memories I’ve made in theatre. Directing has taught me so much about all the work that goes into a show and has made me a more detailed person in all aspects of life. Theatre has taught me to slow down and live in the moment and that time goes by fast when you’re having fun.
Isabelle England, Senior – The JHS theatre department is so amazing and for many more reasons than just one. I feel so incredibly blessed to have such an amazing director running the program. Mr.Avery and his vision for all the shows we do is amazing. He is so kind, funny and caring and he is just one reason this program is so amazing. I have worked on costumes for all 6 shows I have done, the upcoming play being my 7th, and I’ve not only learned how to sew but I’ve learned so many amazing life skills like leadership and conflict resolution, and how to work as a team. I’m really grateful for all the wonderful adults and all the kids that make the program so great.
Jenison High School cast of “The Customer is Always Wrong” by Ian McWethy (Director Caden Hembrough and Stage Manager Hailie MacKay)
Caden Hembrough, Senior – There’s no question Jenison Thespians are learning a lot about life from theatre. I think the biggest lesson we learn is responsibility. Theatre is both an individual and group effort. To learn to do your part on or off stage is what benefits everyone involved.
BRAVO!! Hats off to Mr. Avery, all the student leaders and cast members who poured so much of themselves into these amazing shows! You are an amazing reflection of our Jenison community. Thank you to Bella Van Slyke and Emma Byerwalter for sharing their photos.