Electric enthusiasm buzzed the Ives Hall Dance Studio as Technology High drama students clad in black pants, bow ties and white shirts adjusted suspenders and recited lyrics gearing up for the first dress rehearsal. In two weeks, Emily Walters’ two drama classes premiere “Maniacal Madness Mysteries: Crime and Corruption” on the stage at the Lawrence Jones Theater.
This collaborative project, produced by two sections of drama students, showcases the work of students in selecting and developing the themes of crime and corruption. Students designed the costumes, created the set design concepts, made song selections, developed the choreography and conducted their own rehearsals. They set the show in the 1930s and included songs from Disney villains and from popular Broadway musicals such as “Chicago” and “Sweeney Todd,” a production that all of the students watched as Sonoma State University performed it earlier this year.
The variety of songs follow the act one presentation of a Sherlock Holmes play titled “The Last of Sherlock.” First year drama teacher Emily Walters reported that this showcase presentation drove the curriculum for the two drama classes. Walters said, “Rather than give lectures on theater sets or costumes, I’m asking students to come up with design concepts, then research how to build a set and costume pieces within a certain budget.” Her drama program has a project-based focus.
Walters learned from Principal Dawn Mawhinney how important it was for the Technology High School students to have a creative outlet. Mawhinney “explained that Technology High School had some really motivated students who had started a drama club that put on plays during lunch and after school but that there was not a drama elective offered.”
Walters found the welcoming attitude of administration to the creative needs of many of the students refreshing. “I think it’s great that the administration responded to the varied needs of our students by offering more fine arts electives. We will also be adding choir and band next year, which I think will be a huge asset to our program.” She looks forward to working with the new hired music teacher next year and expanding the fine arts program.
When asked, why fine arts at a technology high school, Walters quickly responded, “There are so many technical aspects of theater that I look forward to diving deeper into next year, when we have our own stage and more space for building and storing.” She added, “This year, I have a few students building periaktoids that we can take with us to our new site.”
So many benefits await the Technology drama department at the new site at Waldo Rohnert. “We will be able to do more with sound, lighting, set design, props and costumes . . . but I’m happy with how our set design and costume design projects are coming along this year.” Walters and her drama students will build on this year’s experience.
This year’s production ushers in thoughts of how to develop the drama program. Like all good teachers, Walters has her eye to the future and how she can build and improve on what has been accomplished as she says, “After our showcase, I plan on sitting down with my students to reflect on our performance and narrow down our goals for next year.” She wonders if she can expand rehearsals beyond the school day or will that create to much conflict for students who are already heavily engaged in extracurricular activities,
The move to a new site Walters regards as opportunity. “Having our own campus and facilities next year will allow me to expand my curriculum and offer more comprehensive units on costume design, set design, lighting and sound. My goal is to eventually have a storage room full of period piece costumes, props and set pieces.” No doubt based on her experiences in dramatic productions at Santa Rosa Junior College, she knows the advantages of having a collection of costumes, properties, and pieces of sets which can be used many times.
Walters looks beyond her own school setting. Collaboration with other local schools can be beneficial to all the programs. She follows latest educational practices as she centers on the practical experiences drama offers to all students. “To keep the project based learning focus, I’m also considering working with other schools in our district to design sets and costumes for their shows, while keeping within their budget. Those type of real-world scenarios help make electives, like drama, more appealing and practical to students who are more interested in business or engineering than the arts.”
Now, back to the show as the students rehearsed four song and dance numbers. Thirties type music and costumes recalled Fred Astaire extravaganza as six to twelve students stepped lively, sang-spoke and moved together with animated expressions and surprising gesticulations. “One Jump Ahead” may have been from “Aladdin” but fit nicely into the depression era theme. “Be Prepared” from “The Lion King” translated nicely into the thirties theme and the crime and corruption motif adding a touch of the Gothic and ended with an eerie laugh.
More ghoulish singing in the students’ rendition of “We Both Reached for the Gun” from “Chicago.” This creepy puppet show number had the deep-voiced master providing the sounds for the lip-synching lead puppet. Another late twentieth century musical travelled back in time as two girls and a boy dance smoothly and sing “Easy Street” lively from “Annie.”
Forty students and one drama teacher put together the music, the choreography, and the stories told in each song and in the first act version of “The Last of Sherlock.” Five members of a creative team coordinate all of this into “Maniacal Musical Mysteries: Crime and Corruption.” Look for the exclusive showing Fri., Apr. 26, at the Lawrence Jones Theater at 7 p.m.