The weather is getting chillier, school is in full swing, and the holidays are just around the corner. For Valley theater directors and students, that means fall play season.
Fall productions provide unique opportunities and benefits to the region’s high school students who are committed to giving their all on the stage.
According to Milton’s student director, January Sholly, “It allows students who don’t do musicals to have a creative outlet in the drama department.”
Shikellamy director Ellen Boyer agrees: “It gives the students an opportunity to study a different kind of literature from a musical, and really go indepth in literary form, the form of a play. It’s good for students who are not necessarily singers and dancers and gives them an opportunity to pursue their aspiration and use their creative talents, too.”
Courtney Hugo, one of the directors at Danville this year, added, “The fall plays allows students to have more experiences in the performing arts. Students get to share their creativity and talents with the community.”
Students also benefit by the relationships they form and all of the lessons they learn about both theater and life.
Roberta Pickering, director of Lewisburg’s fall play, said she makes sure her students benefit from her own knowledge and experience as a professional, classically-trained actress. It’s not just about memorizing lines, she said, but also teaching them “how to move, and the technical terms that go along with theater.”
High school thespians also have opportunities to participate in festivals and receive national recognition.
“It truly benefits our students,” she said. “Some do choose to go off and study theater. For others, they become more appreciative audience members.”
Relationally, “Participating in the play gives students the opportunity to make friends they wouldn’t normally cross paths with,” said Elizabeth Snow, director at Warrior Run.
A lot of personal growth happens, as well.
“Any time a student is able to step outside themselves and become someone else, gain another perspective on life, experience emotions that they may or may have not dealt with, you really can help them grow as they gain an appreciation for their character,” said Kathryn Gaugler, director at Midd-West.
Admitting that “Acting is tough work,” Gaugler said, “So many of my students find their voice on stage. They find confidence in standing in front of a crowd of 800 people.”
At Danville specifically this year, student director Olivia Crumb, a senior, said the fall play will be a chance for students to “break in the new Performing Arts space” and make history by being the first show to be presented there.
In addition, she said being involved in plays not only teaches students about theatre, but also “qualities like responsibility, teamwork and confidence.”
“For the actor, learning to present oneself is a skill that will transfer into life,” said fellow Danville director Kathi Beiter, “but it also gives people the opportunity to try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and encourage empathy and understanding.”
“Students not only hone their acting skills,” agreed Selinsgrove’s director Laurie Knitter, “they realize they are part of the team…Each student tries to do his or her best to make the entire team (cast) work at its highest potential.”
Patricia Wagner, director at Mifflinburg, said their plays are entirely student-run.
“The benefits are physical, emotional, social and they help to develop a healthy appreciation of an historical culture and the arts,” she said. “It’s extremely rewarding to see our students challenged as an artistic team from on stage to behind the scenes.”
Fall plays are also a way to benefit the community, as well as for the community to benefit its kids.
“We have a group of engaged, talented students who provide a night of entertainment — and perhaps education — to our audience,” said Knitter. We hope, as with any educational endeavor, we are creating committed, hard-working, responsible future citizens through this work who will contribute to their communities.”
And the communities are ready to give back in return.
“We have a very artistic, supportive community,” Pickering said. From the general public, to parents, to school administration, she has found steady support for her large productions (like Les Miserables last year).
Wagner also lauded the community for its support, even though “In today’s focus on electronic media and technology, attending a live dramatic performance is becoming less and less common.”
At Midd-West, Gaugler hopes with every production that people realize the quality of work and product the students are able to achieve.
“There are great theatre programs in the Valley,” she said. “And if you’re not attending your local high school production, you’re really missing out on an evening of entertainment.”
“The community has an opportunity to see the students in a different kind of production than a big, full-scale musical,” added Boyer. “Sometimes, the fall plays are very intimate and thought-provoking, and sometimes hilarious comedies.”
“Not only is it good entertainment,” Pickering said, “but I think it’s a positive for our community to see kids doing things that are cultural and positive, and that they’re good role models and good students.”
Added Gaugler, “I’m always hopeful that our community is benefited by an enjoyable experience. We try to pick show that are appropriate for school-aged audiences, but I hope every once in a while we also give our community a meaningful piece of reflection.”