Student Directed Plays Make a Big Splash!

41432736_692829421085471_1502936192197328896_oTeaching, 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.

41517292_692826804419066_4401504762936164352_o.jpgThe 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!41477438_692828077752272_3499005213468000256_o-e1536801411220.jpg 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. 

 

festival-of-plays-7At 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…

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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.

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Jenison High School cast of “Last Night in London” by Kimberly Lew (Directors Drew English & Isabelle England and Stage Manager Alyssa Sumption).

Drew English, SeniorThanks 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, SeniorThe 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.
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Jenison High School cast of “The Customer is Always Wrong” by Ian McWethy (Director Caden Hembrough and Stage Manager Hailie MacKay)

Caden Hembrough, SeniorThere’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.
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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.

“Festival of Plays” Highlights Student Talent

Last week, the JHS Thespian Troupe put their best under a much-deserved spotlight when they showcased three student-selected and student-directed plays. “How to Succeed in High School Without Really Trying” by Jonathan Rand, “Theory of Mind” by Ken LaZebnik, and Selections from “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani were chosen and conceptualized last spring, rehearsed this summer, and performed just days into the new school year.

Now in his 16th year of producing the Festival, theatre teacher Todd Avery beams like a proud father at the success of his students. He smiles at the admission of his young actors that directing is a very difficult but very rewarding experience, knowing full well the rigors of putting on  plays and musicals himself.  Yet the struggle is part of the growing, and these students are doing just that: working hard, attaining personal goals, and reshaping dreams. Mr. Avery is aware of about a dozen former student-directors who have left JPS and gone on to direct, write, or teach in other theater programs or professional companies. “I couldn’t be happier with the process or how well it works,” he said.

When interested students approach Mr. Avery expressing interest in participating in Festival (in this case, last May), he underscores the importance of selecting a quality script. If student-directors need help finding something relevant and of interest to them, Mr. Avery points to them to various resources that might prove helpful and thought-provoking. In the end though, it’s their choice to make under the guidance and approval of their teacher.

Mr. Avery also spends a great deal of time considering the students wishing to direct. He takes into account their work ethic, how they deal with pressure, what kind of leadership skills they possess, and their level of attention to detail. This year he expressed that, “…These were three of the best scripts I’ve ever had proposed for Festival. All three sets of directors were top-notch theatre kids and knew what they were doing. I was VERY proud of the results!”

Next week begins another chapter on the Jenison stage: auditions for the fall play “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance, which debuts the week prior to Thanksgiving. Adding to the excitement is that the show has already been accepted to be performed at the Michigan Thespian Festival on December 1 at Saginaw Valley State University! Performing here provides the troupe with the opportunity to be adjudicated with the hopes of being chosen to perform at the “Broadway” of high school theatre, the International Thespian Festival taking place in June on the campus of the University of Nebraska.

In December, auditions for “Singin’ in the Rain” open up in preparation for March’s musical performance. Mr. Avery notes that–yes–there will indeed be rain on the stage during the show, and that it will be a great way to wrap up the years of history and art that have unfolded in the current auditorium. “Singin’ in the Rain” will be the final production by Jenison theatre students on the old stage before the unveiling of the highly anticipated Fine Arts Center slated to open in late 2013.

The Jenison Theatre Program continues to gain notoriety and praise because of the hard work, dedication, and passionate pursuit of excellence displayed by Mr. Avery and his apprentices. “I feel incredibly blessed to work with such wonderful, talented kids in a district that truly values the arts. It is a dream come true!”

To that we can only rise to our feet and ask for years of encores from a man who truly inspires. Bravo!