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!

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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