Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Students take the lead in musical

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Orlan Wilhite plays the part of Harold Hill in ‘‘Music Man Jr.” during a dress rehearsal Friday.
Just a week before A. Mario Loiederman Middle School’s spring musical performance of ‘‘The Music Man Jr.,” dress rehearsal was running seamlessly, with students hitting their lines and dance steps and the student stagehands switching sets with ease.

Even when a curtain got caught on part of the set during the close of a scene, the student actors didn’t panic. They stayed in character and held their spots until the problem was fixed. Director Kisha Logan, a social studies teacher at the school, shook her head at the stage gaffe but refrained from yelling at her focused cast.

For the students at Loiederman, a magnet school for the creative and performing arts, every aspect of the show must go without a hitch.

‘‘I don’t want to sound biased, but we are probably one of the better middle school performances,” said seventh-grader Morgan Kerschner of ‘‘Music Man Jr.,” which includes an acting cast of about 40 students and a full technical and audio⁄visual staff of about 30. ‘‘The more people involved, the harder it becomes.”

This year’s performance is the first to consist of an almost entirely student cast, both on stage and behind it. During the dress rehearsal, students were seated at monitors displaying various angles of the stage with headsets making adjustments on the fly, others were perched on raised platforms manning video cameras and eighth-grade tech crew director Milai Henriet was darting around the gymnasium directing classmates and tweaking various technical aspects of the set.

‘‘It has prepared me for the future,” said Henriet, an actor in elementary school who got interested in tech direction because he wanted to work for his father, Christian Henriet, a rock musician in France. ‘‘Other schools don’t have the equipment or sound or actors like [Loiederman].”

As a director, Logan said having students with a strong interest in the arts, as well as a $4,000 budget for the show, allows her to delegate a lot of responsibility to the children themselves.

‘‘I don’t know of any other middle schools with a crew this large that does everything,” she said.

Competition for the musical is intense, Logan said, with about 120 students auditioning, mostly for acting positions. Even with many scenes requiring 30 to 40 students singing and dancing on stage at once, there are still many more who did not receive parts.

‘‘It is a nice problem to have,” Principal Alison Serino said of the number of students auditioning. ‘‘But the saddest thing in the world is the preface that some students won’t get spots.”

Loiederman does not offer courses in technical stage production, but Serino said it is taught within many theater courses and many students who don’t earn acting roles will learn the technical side.

The school trains its actors beginning in sixth grade, when all students must take an introduction course in the fine arts. Students take one to two electives in performing arts per year, which meet for 90 minutes every other day. Logan said many actors also work outside the school in community groups.

All students involved in ‘‘The Music Man Jr.” cannot play spring sports as part of the commitment and beginning last week, rehearsals were held five days a week, including the past weekend.

Eighth-grade actor Kyle Louviere said he doesn’t mind the hard work because he knows the importance of the performance.

‘‘It feels like the last chance to do the best we can before going to high school,” he said. ‘‘The play is about doing what I love to do and getting experience.”

While the show prides itself on student involvement, Logan said it would not succeed without help from parents who help with everything from set design, to providing snacks and ‘‘Music Man Jr.” T-shirts and working on the costumes, provided by Gene’s Costume Shop in Silver Spring.

Andrea Kibbe, whose sixth-grade son, Sawyer, acts in the play, is the production manager. Calvin Custen, whose eighth-grade daughter Cataline also acts, helps the tech crew.

‘‘When [Cataline] first came here, she said she would be in every play, no matter what the part and she has done it,” Custen said.

And with a major part of Loiederman’s arts-inclined student body taking their own roles in the play, Serino said the spring musical has become a showcase for the entire school.

‘‘It’s the pinnacle of our year,” she said.

If you go

A Mario Loiederman Middle School’s spring musical ‘‘Music Man Jr.” will be held 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $4 for students and seniors and $6 for adults, available at the door or call the school at 301-929-2282.