With an infectiously unforgettable score from four-time Grammy winner, three-time Oscar winner and musical theatre giant, Stephen Schwartz, Pippin is the story one young man’s journey to be extraordinary. This updated circus-inspired version of Pippin continue to captivate and appeal to audiences across the age spectrum. Photos by Andrew Henry
NBC10 and the Educational Theatre Foundation held an advanced screening of the pilot for the new television drama “Rise” at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center on March 11.
Tickets for the event, hosted by NBC10 meteorologist Brittney Shipp, were free to reserve on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“‘Rise’ reflects a modern American high school with students of diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” said Shipp before the screening. “The story is as much about a small town in Pennsylvania as it is about musical theater. ‘Rise’ is about family, friendship, relationships, and growing up.”
The show is based on a true story, featuring the lives of teachers and students at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pa. Current students and staff were invited to the event.
“This show is about finding inspiration in unexpected places when dedicated teacher Lou Mazzuchelli sheds his self-doubt and takes over the school’s lackluster theater department,” Shipp said before the screening began. “He galvanizes not only the faculty but also students in the entire working-class town.”
Georjenna Gatto, an alumnus of Truman, explained that “Rise” is based on “Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater,” a book by Michael Sokolove, New York Times Magazine writer and Truman alumnus.
Published in 2013, “Drama High” tells the true story of the students and teachers at Truman.
At the time, the students were rehearsing for the first high school-edited production of “Spring Awakening,” under the direction of Lou Volpe. In Gatto’s words, Volpe revolutionized the theater program at Truman.
“I was playing Wendla,” said Gatto, referring to her lead role in the production. “Mike Sokolove came back and followed us around for months, interviewing us and watching us rehearse.”
Students and staff from Mastery Charter School at Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, Pa. were also invited to the screening.
“These two schools were one of 50 schools chosen by NBC and the Educational Theatre Foundation that’s part of R.I.S.E. America,” Shipp said. “They are going to receive a $10 thousand grant that will enable them to enhance their theater program.”
According to the Educational Theatre Foundation website, 50 high schools were chosen out of 1,000 applicants to receive NBC’s “R.I.S.E. America” grants.
The acronym “R.I.S.E.” stands for “Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression.” The grants enable theater programs to cover the cost of critical needs, such as production expenses and technical equipment.
Jared Moskowitz and Natalie Busillo, teachers at Shoemaker, said they applied for the grant and submitted a video.
“I took [the video] on my iPhone,” Busillo said. “It was our school choir singing ‘21 Guns’ [by Green Day], and I interviewed some students. I literally looked up YouTube videos on how to edit and taught myself how to use iMovie.”
Moskowitz said they had tried performing productions at Shoemaker in the past, but due to unfortunate circumstances, were unable to.
“We were going to do a production of ‘A Raisin In The Sun,’ and we completely sold out,” he said. “Two weeks before opening night, a pipe burst in the school, and the entire theater flooded. All of the equipment was ruined and the stage buckled in. The floodgates literally opened.”
Busillo said that Shoemaker has one of the stronger theater programs out of all campuses due to their more developed space for musicals. The grant money will go toward updating theater equipment.
After the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center screening, Shipp held a Q-and-A with executive producer Jason Katims and “Rise” star Damon J. Gillespie.
Shipp asked Katims how he came up with the idea for the show and what compelled him to write it.
“I became aware of [“Drama High”] from Jeffrey Seller and Bob Greenblatt,” said Katims, referring to the NBC producers. “Even before opening the book, I knew it was a story I wanted to tell. Lou dedicated his life to being an educator, inspiring so many students’ lives and changing the community.”
Katims added that trying to capture the spirit and essence that many high school theater programs have is exciting for him.
He also paid tribute to teachers at Truman, including Volpe.
“I’ve spent the last year in Lou’s world,” Katims said. “Writing about this, I’m inspired by all of the teachers who do the same thing.”
Katims said that when Volpe read the script, he focused on the writing rather than the material of the show.
“It was incredible,” Katims said. “He saw me as a writer, and I realized that I was experiencing what it was like to be one of Lou’s students in that theater program for 44 years.”
NBC aired the pilot on March 13 and new episodes will continue to air every Tuesday.
Contact Dean Galiffa at email@example.com
By Emily Steinhardt
Under the direction of Stephen Smith, nine actors successfully brought to life the story of Clybourne Park, the fall drama that ran from Nov. 9-11 and 16-18.
According to DCCC’s website, “Clybourne Park is a razor-sharp satire about the politics of race, written partly as a prequel/sequel to one of the greatest plays ever written in this country, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.” The play takes place in the same house as A Raisin in the Sun in the same suburb of Chicago.
The first act is set in 1959 as a white family is selling their house to an African-American family. Act two jumps to 2009 as the descendants of the Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun are selling the home to a young white couple as the neighborhood experiences gentrification.
The show comes full circle at the end as it flashes back to 1959 and the audience meets Kenneth (Ben Vuocolo), a character that is mentioned throughout the show but never seen. It was the final moment of the show, and it tugged my heart out as I finally understood many subtle things that were discussed in the play.
In both acts, themes of racism, mental illness, gender, disability, and class are examined at large. The actors portrayed these very relevant topics in a believable manner that mirrored how many people still talk about them today.
The show was chalk full of standout moments from each of the actors. Performers played two different characters from the separate acts that echoed each other. They were all very successful in highlighting those similarities, especially Daniel Thach, Matt Morris, Terence Stroman, and Casey Innes.
Set designer Mimi Smith truly transformed the space. Stage crew and actors helped “change” the set during intermission to show the passing of time in the house by taking off a changeable wallpaper among other things.
Costumes were designed by Samantha Angelina, who was also one of the actors in the show. She captured the feeling of both eras, making it easy for the audience to believe they were back in the 1950’s or 2009.
Stephen Smith directed yet another fantastic play that “examined ways we still need to reckon with our national history which sadly keeps dividing us” as he said in his director’s note.
Bravo to the cast and everyone involved in such an excellent production.
Contact Emily Steinhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Victoria Lavelle
It was lights up as NakedEye Ensemble took center stage to present “Loud and Soft, High and Low” at the Marple Campus Large Auditorium as part of DCCC’s New Music Concert Series Nov. 2.
The eight-member electro-acoustic ensemble pulled from the group’s combined classical, rock, and jazz talents, and performed musical works by modern and “cutting-edge” composers, utilizing acoustics, electric guitar, toy piano, and a variety of unique sound-making instruments that included kitchen gadgets.
Founded in 2009 by pianist Ju-Ping Song, NakedEye began as the resident contemporary ensemble of Pennsylvania’s Academy of Music. According to Song, approximately two years later the group had developed into an independent organization in Lancaster, Pa., composed of professional musicians from classical, rock and jazz backgrounds.
“NakedEye’s body of repertoire reflects the group’s mission to innovate and explore musical expression outside of convention,” Song said. “From notated works to guided improvisations for flexible instrumentation, the group has established a New Music presence in its home city of Lancaster, from which it collaborates with composers and performers to import and export musical works in a rich, ongoing artistic exchange. NakedEye believes in the power of New Music to surprise, uplift, and change.”
In addition to Song, “Loud and Soft, High and Low” featured the sounds of cello performed by Peter Kibbe, electric guitar by Chad Kinsey, flute by Susanna Loewy, clarinet by Christy Banks, saxophone by Ryan Kauffman, electric bass by Mike Bitts, and percussions by Jeff Stern.
“NakedEye’s performance was full of life, with a new and modern sound,” said Downingtown adjunct professor of anatomy and physiology Navita Kaushal. “The way they put together the orchestra, along with the wind and brass instruments was absolutely great!”
From notated scores to guided improvisations, the group has established a New Music presence in South Central Pennsylvania. According to Song, the ensemble collaborates with composers and performers to import and export a diverse musical experience and ongoing exchange of talents.
As noted on the ensemble’s official website, their mission states, “The group is a working embodiment of its mission to perform and promote emerging contemporary music and talent, both locally and abroad.”
NakedEye Ensemble’s mission and direction is supported by the Thomas A. and Georgina T. Russo Family Foundation, PA Council of the Arts, New Music USA, The Amphion Foundation, and individual donors.
Song interacted with the audience throughout the show and narrated between musical selections, sharing background information and personal stories of the ensembles.
Composer Aaron Jay Myers of Boston described how challenging it became when he began composing the show’s music, calling the experience “complicated.” Myers shared that he had difficulties while composing the musical selection for NakedEye, due to an unexpected change in his eyesight.
Not long after beginning the musical composition, Myers said that he became increasingly worried that he might have amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” as it’s commonly referred to as. After seeking medical treatment, he was diagnosed with strabismus, a vision impairing condition in which the visual axes of the eyes are not parallel, so each eye’s vision appears aimed in different directions.
Myers said his rock and jazz roots are apparent in the music, he explained that his inspiration was something much different.
“I am honored to have composed these works for the fantastic musicians of NakedEye,” Myers said. “After being diagnosed with strabismus, it undoubtedly became the inspiration behind this orchestrated musical piece with the goal of turning something negative into something positive and productive. The melody starts out focused and clear, then some of the material turns blurry and hazy while gradually becoming unfocused. As it builds towards the peak and nears the conclusion, everything transitions back to being focused again.”
The ensemble earned “Time’s Illusion” Commissioning Project Award, and received the New Music USA Grant in June 2017, and the Amphion Foundation Grant in July 2017. The ensemble’s commissioned works have also received first prize at NYC’s UnCaged Toy Piano Composition Competition.
University of Wisconsin – Madison music composition professor Stephen Dembski composed “NakedEye Came” in 2014, but says he just recently revised the piece at his home in Manhattan.
“I just finished replacing the contrabass with the cello at Ju-Ping’s request, to properly fit the piece with the ensembles evolving instruments and players,” Dembski added. “I made the drive down to DCCC from New York City because this was the first performance of the new since the alterations and detailed specifications. This piece is struck by the heavy resonance of the name NakedEye, and I recalled its sonic sibling in the book of Job: ‘Naked I came from the earth, naked I shall return whence I came.’”
Altogether, the ensemble showcased six orchestrated pieces. Four additional performances by NakedEye included: “Fur Alina” composed by Arvo Pärt, “God Soul Mind Brain” by Randall Woolf, “Seven” by Don Byron, and “Workers’ Union” composed by Louis Andiessen.
After curtain call and the final bow, Song and the NakedEye members invited guests to stay and encouraged questions from the audience.
DCCC general studies major Charlie Smith asked the ensemble how they trained their minds to stay focused and keep precise timing without just glazing over each musical performance.
“It sounds easy, but it’s actually extremely hard,” Song replied. “If you lose your focus, you will indeed end up lost. One of the best ways to learn your timing, is to keep rehearsing it until you have it mastered.”
DCCC liberal arts major William McMahon directed his question specifically to the electric guitarist when he asked, “Who inspired you? Did you imagine yourself playing this sort of music, rather than the traditional ‘Rock-n-roll?’”
“I was inspired by Pete Townshend from The Who, and Mark Stewart from the group, Bang on a Can,” Kinsey replied. “I used to play the electric guitar in rock music, and I made it appear effortless because it’s actually rather easy and fulfilling. Becoming a member of NakedEye Ensemble has been a much different experience that I never anticipated. I never went to music school, so I’m up here on stage playing with doctors. I don’t know how to read music, but I grew skills and talent through my passion. I’m thankful and blessed to be a part of NakedEye Ensemble.”
Contact Victoria Lavelle at email@example.com
Story and photos by Emily Steinhardt
Thousands of people wandered around Germantown Avenue on Oct. 21 as Harry Potter Festival took over Chestnut Hill. Attendees enjoyed everything from Butter Beer to brooms as they explored the 12 block festival that doubled in size since last year.
Chestnut Hill College was host to the Annual Philadelphia Brotherly Love Cup, a Quidditch tournament that local colleges could compete in.
The day was filled with costumes and characters from the books as people of all ages lived in the world of Harry Potter.