Parker Irwin anxiously paces the tech booth, his eyes on the stage. A spotlight shines on a music stand, and the show begins.
For the first time in Greenwood Community School District’s history, a band of high school students directed and led Greenwood Middle School’s first musical. Juniors Parker Irwin, Kimberly Cope, Christian Jones, Michael Bejil and senior Mystique Colon worked together to put on Seussical Jr., performed completely by middle school students.
“Mr. Borns brought the idea up,” musical director Parker Irwin said, “Kim and I had talked about doing a middle school camp at the high school, which ended up evolving into an entire musical.”
In order to fund the musical, the students took out a loan from the high school’s musical fund.
“We started with $1,000 from the high school, and then the rest was donated money,” Irwin said. “We got enough money to pay off all the money that we owed and we were able to fund it ourselves. We made enough money this year that we will be able to do the musical again next year without taking any money from anyone else.”
The directors chose Seussical Jr. as the first musical due to its unique liveliness.
“Seuss is fun,” Irwin said. “It’s crazy, and the high school has never done anything like it before. I would say it’s more entertaining than a lot of other shows. There’s lots of parts for lots of kids.”
The audition process began with music. Students came in from groups of three to eight, and they would individually sing the audition song in front of middle school choir director Kaitlyn Lincourt, Jones, and Irwin.
“With the kids who hadn’t been in choir or hadn’t sung very much we did some testing, just to see their ranges,” Irwin said.
The students were then sent into a room with Colon, Cope, and sophomore Angela Stigall to do dance blocking.
“We did a 30 second dance routine to see where they kids were and if they could follow direction,” assistant director Kimberly Cope said.
After the audition, there was a small round of callbacks.
“We had a little bit of callbacks but that was nuts,” Irwin said. “We’re not doing it that way next year.”
When the cast was selected, the directors began to practice with the students.
“We were able to work with kids individually, especially Christian with Dylan,” Irwin said. “He got to work with Dylan a lot, one on one. So having enough of us to where we could really split off and work with cast members individually was a really unique experience for them, and also for us. We made some bonds with certain kids and I think when they come into high school they’ll have somebody to look out for them.”
Working music with the students was a unique experience for the young directors. Miss Lincourt was able to assist them.
“Parker and I were standing up there, neither of us has ever done anything like that before, and she was helping us through how to give cues and things like that.”
During the many long rehearsals, Jones was there for the middle school students whenever they needed him.
“I made sure all of the children weren’t going berserk during rehearsal,” Jones said.
Before and after rehearsals, the directors worked long hours and most of their winter break to make sure everything was ready for the students.
“Just to put this musical on, it took so many long hours of hard work over our breaks,” director’s assistant Mystique Colon said. “It was a little unfortunate because we never really got a break, but at the end of the day it all became so worth it when they took the stage.”
After months of rehearsing and fine tuning, it was finally what every musical theater fan knows as tech week – a week of full dress rehearsals. It is known for its full runs of shows with costumes, props and no stopping. Though it was the goal, this was not what tech week was for Seussical Jr.
“It turned into a musical week instead of a tech week,” technical director Michael Bejil Jr. said.
Thursday, January 9th was the soft open for Seussical Jr., the first show meant for family members and teachers. Some of the cast members did not have their costumes yet.
“The last day of tech week was also the first and final dress rehearsal,” Irwin said.
The soft open did not go well. Microphones were not working correctly, and tensions were running high.
“After Thursday, we thought it would flop,” Cope said. “We thought it was going to be awful and we wouldn’t be able to do it again next year.”
Before both shows, the directors had show circle, but changed it from the way the high school does it before the performance.
“We changed it from the high school because we wanted to have our own thing,” Irwin said. “One thing we ran into at the circle was that the kids didn’t want to hold hands.”
On opening night, everyone was stressed. Cope, instead of Irwin, decided to conduct in the pit.
“I think it was good that Parker wasn’t in the pit opening night so if something went wrong he could be there and deal with it,” Cope said.
The directors were all very nervous.
“Parker was a nervous wreck in the booth,” Bejil said. “He was prancing back and forth.”
The show began, and as it kept going, tensions eased.
“It got through the second or third number and I was just smiling because they were killing it,” Cope said.
The directors were proud of their students for pulling everything together in order to put on a great show.
“It’s impressive they were able to do that because for me I like to have a couple of shows under my belt, but they did it,” Cope said.
The second show brought a lot of emotions from directors and the cast. The young cast of Seussical Jr. was extremely thankful for their directors.
“Most of us haven’t been in a directing position before and it’s usually the other way around, us being thankful for the directors,” Irwin said. “This time around the kids this time were thankful for us, and it felt so good that we changed and helped them grow.”
The directors created bonds that will last for a long time.
“I feel like I could walk up and see any of the cast on the street and have a full conversation with them,” Cope said. “There’s a group of seventh graders that I grew really close with that I could just chill out with for a day.”
The pride the directors felt was surreal.
“I felt really proud at the end,” Jones said. “Not of us, but of them. Some performers went from being super quiet and shy to being great performers, and it was really cool.”
This group of GHS students help create bonds between middle school students that will last until their senior year and beyond.
“When you have a family like that, it’s really special because you’re working towards the same goal,” Jones said. “In middle school I really think they love it more and they found it early. It’s going to form a really great family by senior year.”
Overall, the directors were extremely proud of the cast that they spent so much of their time investing in.
“When we were writing our bios, we had made some quotes to go in the program, one was ‘I hope you leave tonight saying “Wow!” like I do every time I see the kids perform,’” Irwin said. “At the time, I had never seen the kids perform. At the end of the show, that quote stood true, and that was really cool to see.”