Hillcrest High thespians use New York experience in their acting this upcoming seasonOct 01, 2022 07:32PM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Auditions opened to the first 50 elementary school students who wanted to be a part of Hillcrest High School’s fall musical, “Oliver!”
“A musical like this requires a giant ensemble of children,” Hillcrest High director Josh Long said. “The last professional production in London was in 2010 and it had 60 kids come in and play pickpockets, be in the poor house and play other roles. We’ve never done a show to bring in elementary kids before, but this is the perfect opportunity.”
Those children will be part of a cast of about 200 who will be part of the production, which will be at 7 p.m., Nov. 17-19 and again, Nov. 21 in the school’s auditorium, 7350 S. 900 East. Tickets for this show as well as the season are available online at hillcresttheatre.com.
The season will include “Catch Me if You Can” at 7 p.m., Jan. 19-21, 2023; “The Heart of Robin Hood” at 7 p.m., March 15-18; and “Frankenstein” at 7 p.m., May 5, 6, 8 and 11-13.
Before performing “Oliver!,” 56 Hillcrest students planned to take part in the 46th annual high school Shakespearean competition, Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 in Cedar City. Their events included an ensemble piece taken from “Anthony and Cleopatra” scenes, monologues and Tech Olympics. Hillcrest has won its division’s title three of the past four years.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to do ‘Anthony and Cleopatra.’ It’s always been on the list, but I just felt this year, that’s what we're going to do. We’re going to include a giant sea battle on stage,” Long said.
There will be a free showing of the Shakespearean competition pieces at 7 p.m., Oct. 3 in Hillcrest’s auditorium.
This will be Long’s first time directing “Oliver!”
“Charles Dickens is my second favorite person to work with after Shakespeare. We’ve done a couple of Dickens’ shows in the past. I've been studying ‘Oliver Twist,’ the novel that the show is based off, and I just freaking love it. I’m really excited about it,” he said.
Long also is enthusiastic to show his production company’s talent in “Catch Me if You Can.”
“We have a really good company of dancers this year, and a really big dance show and it’s a fun show,” he said. “This is going to be a visual feast and I really like the music in it.”
In March, the thespians will perform “The Heart of Robin Hood” that comes from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“It’s pretty new. It’s one of the epic plays that focuses on the protagonist, not Robin Hood. She goes undercover and joins the merry men and is actually much better at it than they are so it's kind of a cool twist on the story of Robin Hood,” Long said.
The play includes archery, which the students will learn.
“That’s what I love about being a teacher. They’re getting to learn all these different skills in addition to what you expect in performing arts,” he said.
“Frankenstein” will end Hillcrest’s season.
“The company and I will be devising the production of the novel itself. We’re not using a pre-existing script; this will be a very physical and immersive-based theatre. The students will be involved in the artistic process of how this looks,” Long said. “We will be using the novel to create the show, so we’ll put different kids in charge of different sections of the story and how to turn that into a piece of theatre. With ‘Oliver!’ they’ll use that novel as a research component, whereas with ‘Frankenstein,’ it will be central to creating the show.”
In addition to these performances, students will compete in region in March. State competition is in April.
Many of the students are excited for the school year, after spending a week in New York City, where in addition to seeing the sights, they took in eight different shows, including “Music Man,” “Into the Woods,” “Hamlet,” “Hadestown,” and “Come from Away” or “MJ.” They also participated in workshops, actor talk backs and met with a casting director to learn about auditions.
“It was great. It was so rejuvenating and educational,” Long said about the 30 students who participated in the week-long tour in August.
Junior Gabe Williams, who is part of the school’s Shakespeare team, was one of those students who went to the Big Apple.
“This was my first time being in New York City,” Williams said. “My impression of it is interesting. I really loved seeing the shows, but the streets are obviously very dirty. I’m not used to that big of a city. What interested me was the drivers. It felt really chaotic and there was honking constantly and a lot of aggression because the streets were so full. But the drivers in New York know how to not hit pedestrians even though New Yorkers will walk across the street when the crosswalk is red.”
Williams appreciated seeing many different productions in New York.
“Seeing all these shows is a way to help us realize all the things that are kind of possible. Sometimes we can get used to what we always do, and we don’t always think about new ways that we could do things. I learned in ‘Hadestown’ the way that you can sing and the way that music can affect the performance. There are things I learned in ‘The Oresteia’ about how you can use suspense and how your character can have really subtle motivations that you wouldn’t normally think of. I learned in ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ which is another show we saw, about acting that took place in one set the entire time. It was just all about the actors and how good they were,” he said.
Now Williams is using some of those newly gained skills in his own acting.
“My character in ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ is the only character in the play that speaks directly to the audience,” he said. “I didn't know the play very well before I auditioned so I’m reading it now. I’ve learned a lot from being on the Shakespeare team all three years. My freshman year, I found it pretty difficult. I didn’t really understand a lot of the language. I was kind of confused as to what I was saying. But this year, I’m feeling a lot more confident with the language and the verse and how to use it. There are a lot of tools that Shakespeare gives you to tell you how you should say things and the reason for saying things. There’s a lot of that written into the text and so I'm learning a lot about that.”
Williams’ acting credits at Hillcrest include “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Holiday Inn,” and “Prince Caspian,” amongst others.
He’s excited for “Oliver!”
“Charles Dickens is really good at creating interesting, unique characters that are kind of not what any other writer would think to create. He gives his characters specific physical things and vocals that they do, which will actually be very helpful when we’re doing the play,” said Williams, who is reading the novel, “Oliver Twist” as well.
“Reading it helps me personally get excited about the characters and what we’re trying to portray and share with the audience.”
He is planning to read “Frankenstein” to help with the spring performance — when he’s not doing his homework or helping the drama club as vice president. The council, which offers social activates and service opportunities for students, also gives students experience in different parts of theatre such as promoting season ticket sales on the website or helping their peers learn music.
“When I came to high school, I was not planning on doing theatre, but ever since I got me into it, I just really have loved it,” Williams said. “My very first experience being on the Shakespeare team was magical. There’s no other word for it. I really loved all the people that were a part of it and we all just were very connected to each other. Every year it changes and I’m able to make connections with other people. We’ve created some really amazing pieces and I’ve had experiences where I’ve competed. Even with theatre presidency, I’m learning about how to be successful in real life, not just the theatre world. I’m learning about deadlines, working with other people outside of scripts. This theatre experience has been one of the most unifying things I’ve done in my life. I want to keep it going.”