With Hammond Creek Middle School’s expansive, state-of-the-art theater and a drive to expose students to all aspects of the theater arts, more Dalton Public Schools students are gaining invaluable theater experience earlier than ever. .
“We have more space to play, and our numbers have tripled or quadrupled,” said Courtenay Cholovich, director of fine arts/theatre at Hammond Creek. “We have 58 kids involved” in “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” – which opens Friday in Hammond Creek – 22 in the cast.
“Some are experienced, and some are new to the stage,” said Cholovich, director of “Sideways Stories from Wayside School.” These backstage people “help with set prep and design, work on costumes, and learn our sound and light booth from (volunteer and theater veteran) Joe Ross, (so) they get a lot of hands-on training right off the bat.”
Anslie Wright enjoyed “making instruments (props) out of weird and random objects and painting for the (decorated) wall” – among other tasks – under the tutelage of local artist David George, the student from sixth. “It’s fun and I love the experience, (because) there’s something different about theater and drama (vs) sports.”
“David George has been incredibly gracious in volunteering his time twice a week with our team behind the scenes,” Cholovich said. “Being an extremely talented artist and designer himself, it’s a great opportunity for students to work with someone like David – (who) has incredible energy and the know-how to help students bring their ideas to life. of their imagination on stage – first hand.
Ross “is an absolute asset to the local theater community,” Cholovich said. “He’s often in charge of backstage lights and sound for all kinds of productions – theater, dance, choir performances and more – (and) I can always ask Joe for help with a show.”
“I don’t play sports – that’s what I want to do – my favorite thing is to get on stage and perform in front of a live audience,” said Sydney Brown, a seventh-grader who started the theater a few years ago and was quickly hooked. “I used to dance, and it’s fun to play live; I get a little nervous, but once I’m there it’s just fun.
Brown’s character provided an acting challenge, because although Brown is “more shy”, her character is not, she said. “She’s popular – she presents herself to people as having ‘the nicest teeth’ – and not modest.”
Kamela Goodlett loves her character, Dana, because she’s “friendly, kind, and kind,” the sixth-grader said. “I’ve wanted to do a play for a while – I’m playing at home with my (family) – and I love learning and building friendships with people.”
Brown enjoyed being “one of the older students” in this production and took her duty to be “a role model” seriously, she said. “I’ve always been the youngest in the performances I’ve done, and it’s really important to gain experience, because the more experience you have, the better roles you will be (offered), because you will have progressed more.”
Theater veterans like Brown “welcomed me into this group and helped me so much,” said Goodlett, who is in her first school production. She has already learned, for example, the value of fitting into a set, because “you have to be in (harmony) with your team”.
It’s also important to leave any offstage drama out there — offstage — so that “you make it a good show for the audience,” Brown said. “You have to put aside all the problems you have with other people, because that can spoil it for the public, and that would be very selfish.”
Set in a classroom setting, “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” is adapted from the Wayside School series by author Louis Sachar – best known for “Holes”, winner of the 1998 United States National Book Award for Children’s Literature and of the 1999 Newbery Medal for “the year’s most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature” – and is “truly an ensemble piece, with many different opportunities for students to shine, (but) they are also all in the same boat,” Cholovich said. “Most of them are on stage for the whole show because it’s life in a classroom, so they’re able to work on their stage presence, attention and focus.”
This collaboration also holds true behind the scenes, she said.
“There’s a whole workshop where they get to (create), and it’s invaluable for them to work together collaboratively.”
Genesis Hernandez was “interested in being part of a production and seeing how it worked and trying something new,” said the seventh-grader, who is part of the behind-the-scenes crew. She found a group with similar interests, which she enjoys, because “not everyone likes theater – and that’s fine – but it’s rewarding when people like the play, because it gives feel like validating in a knowing way (you had a role).”
Members of the behind-the-scenes team “don’t get enough (spotlight) for all the work they do,” said seventh-grader Lilyanna “Ace” Garcia. “I like to participate (behind the scenes) whenever I can.”
“Sideways Stories from Wayside School” will premiere in Hammond Creek at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as 2 p.m. Sunday, Cholovich said. Tickets are a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for students, while Dalton Public Schools staff are admitted free.
Developing the students of Hammond Creek, through Alana Sane’s curriculum in middle school and then Wes Phinney’s acting department at Dalton High School is a goal shared by Cholovich, Phinney and Sane, Cholovich said.
“We are committed to building this bottom-up program together, and I love seeing my students rise through the ranks under Alana and Wes.”