Newtown High School Prepares For Its Fall Drama

Published: October 21, 2017 at 12:00 am


From left, stage manager Danielle Wassmer, director Harrison Hoffert, and cast members Sarah Grant and Jack Armstrong work on choreography for a scene in <i>Getting Away With Murder</i>.  (Bee Photo, Hallabeck)
From left, stage manager Danielle Wassmer, director Harrison Hoffert, and cast members Sarah Grant and Jack Armstrong work on choreography for a scene in Getting Away With Murder. (Bee Photo, Hallabeck)
Members of the <i>Getting Away With Murder</i> crew work at the town garage on October 13 to build portions of the play's set. (Bee Photo, Hallabeck)
Members of the Getting Away With Murder crew work at the town garage on October 13 to build portions of the play's set. (Bee Photo, Hallabeck)
With the Newtown High School auditorium renovation project underway, NHS students are preparing for this year's fall drama production without the use of the space. While challenging, advisors say the students are putting in the work to make sure the play is ready to be staged at Reed Intermediate School for mid-November.

This year's fall drama is Getting Away with Murder, written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. NHS senior Harrison Hoffert is directing the production, and he described it as a "who done it" similar to Agatha Christie novels. Harrison said he wanted a play that offered a more contemporary mystery. Getting Away With Murder was staged on Broadway in the late 1990s.

Fall Drama Advisors Janice Gabriel and Brian Tenney both recently said that students have been working hard on the effort.

"We really want the fall drama to be a student-run production," said Ms Gabriel, seated on the stage in the school's cafetorium on October 11, as students prepared to rehearse scenes.

Each year students apply in the spring to direct the fall drama. Ms Gabriel said Harrison "put forth a really intriguing and smart proposal."

While the name of the play may put off some, Ms Gabriel said it is a comedy that would be suitable for middle school aged play goers. The play is so funny that Ms Gabriel said there are times when she sits in rehearsals and laughs, over and over again.

"I think it is hilarious," said Ms Gabriel.

This is the second year the fall drama will be staged at Reed due to the NHS auditorium renovation. Last year's adaptation of Julius Caesar was also staged there. Later in the school year, NHS's musical production of Evita was staged at Walnut Hill Community Church, in Bethel.

For last year's fall drama production, Mr Tenney said the students built the set at NHS before moving it to Reed for the play. This year that was not an option, and Ms Gabriel thanked the school district's director of facilities Gino Faiella for clearing space at the town garage at Fairfield Hills for students to build the set.

Students worked on October 13 at the garage to build flats and stud-walls to form the infrastructure and cover for the set's infrastructure. The number of students that can work at the garage at one time is restricted for safety reasons, so Mr Tenney said roughly 20 members of the production's crew rotate through a work schedule. All-Star Transportation, he said, helps by providing transportation for students from NHS.

Mr Tenney said students are paying close attention to the set design this year, because a number of plot points are pivotal to the set. Characters climb in windows, walk through doors, and where they are during a scene is crucial to the play. It is, he said, a complex set. When it is done, Mr Tenney said the plan is to have students carry what they can to the next building over, Reed Intermediate School. The portions of the set that are too big to carry will be transported with vehicles. Inclement weather offered some challenges for moving the set last year, but overall there is a feeling of hope among the crew.

"We always have a good time," said Mr Tenney, adding that he is extremely proud of the production's student leadership and crew.

NHS Junior Nina Soriano is the production's scenic designer, and she said she is paying close attention to the antique, Gothic, and 1950s aspects of the play.

"I really hope people like it," Nina said, taking a moment from building one section of the set.

The production's cast and crew will move into the space at Reed about two weeks before the play is performed.

Ms Gabriel said students have "really rolled with" the difficult situation of preparing for a play that will be performed in another location.

On October 11, Harrison and stage manager Danielle Wassmer oversaw two actors - Sarah Grant and Jack Armstrong - blocking the choreography of a scene with guidance from Ms Gabriel for safety.

Harrison said he wanted to produce Getting Away With Murder because "it is a different kind of show than what I have seen done here in the past."

Harrison has worked as stage manager on drama and musical productions at the school in the past, and he said his "tech background" is helping him approach directing the play.

Getting Away With Murder will be performed at Reed, 3 Trades Lane, Thursday, November 16 through Sunday, November 19. The play will be performed at 7 pm on November 16, 17, and 18. It will also be staged at 2 pm on November 19. Tickets will be sold at the door for $7 for students, $10 for senior citizens, and $12 for adults.

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