Streams

Musical Theater, in the Spotlight

Tuesday, May 01, 2012 - 11:19 AM

There are always a lot of emotions fluttering around the mind of a performer the night before opening a musical: stage fright, worry about remembering lines, trepidation about hitting the high C in the closing song.

But last year, as Troy Deweever was preparing for his role in the musical “Seussical,” at the Brooklyn Theater Arts High School in Canarsie, Brooklyn, he had to worry about something out of the ordinary: replacing a broken spotlight.

As the final rehearsal wound down, Troy said recently, “the spotlight burned out, like literally caught on fire.”

Students at Brooklyn Theater do not have to worry about a repeat performance this year, because this theater tale has a happy ending. And it is one worth celebrating as students around the city prepare for the big school musical, a rite of spring in many schools.

In New York, many school musicals are part of that post-testing rush of events that occur every year ahead of that glimmering finish line, the last day of school. They are mixed in with concerts, fairs, international food festivals, talent shows and, for many seniors who are graduating, prom and a cascade of special events.

But for the students who participate, the spring musical is a high point of their high school experience. And nowhere is that more true than at Brooklyn Theater, a 9-12 school of 330 students that emphasizes performance and theater -- and where the annual spring musical is a seminal event.

So about that blown spotlight:

Troy helped a teaching assistant, Johnmichael Rossi, wheel the giant light -- which looks like a miniature cannon on a stick -- out of the lighting room, and waited anxiously as Mr. Rossi worked to find a replacement.

Mr. Rossi worked at Vital Theater Company, a professional theater group that helped establish Brooklyn Theater Arts in 2007 and sends “teaching artists” to the school to help put on plays and musicals.

He went to Vital’s studio on the Upper West Side, grabbed a spotlight, then hauled it across the city -- via subway and taxi -- all the way to Canarsie for the next day’s performance.

“It was just in the nick of time,” said Troy, who looks strikingly similar to a Fresh Prince-era Will Smith. “We would have had to do the musical without a spotlight, which was crucial.”

The spotlight shouldn't be a concern any more. On May 2, Troy, now a 17-year-old senior, and his classmates will officially re-open the beautifully renovated auditorium within the South Shore education complex with a performance of the musical “Footloose.”

The auditorium, which is shared by five other public high schools, a Young Adult Borough Center and is occasionally used by community residents, received $961,000 from the capital budget of the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, last year. The School Construction Authority then worked with consultants from Vital to update the auditorium.

As a result, the massive space now has acoustic-enhancing velvet walls, wood panels outlining the large border of the stage, more than 120 overhead and stage-facing lights, 20 wireless microphones, a new sound system, a mixing board and new electrical wiring.

Mark Zustovich, a spokesman for Mr. Markowitz, said in an e-mail that the borough president was “proud to support this renovation,” and that the improvements to the auditorium “will give performance students the space they need to thrive creatively.”

The students at Brooklyn Theater Arts were beaming with enthusiasm before a recent rehearsal, well aware of their good fortune.

“I’m just really excited because this is the last performance I’m going to have in this school,” said Adama Jackson, a 17-year-old senior with dark, curly hair. “I’m just grateful that we even got the lights.”

“We get to experience the real experience,” added Rafael Sochakov, also a senior, who will play the lead character, Ren McCormick, in "Footloose." “It’s like Broadway.”

Students, teachers, parents: What is your school's Broadway experience this year? Tell us your tales from school about your musical. What show are you doing? And why?

How are your facilities? Did budget cuts affect your ability to put on a show this year -- or last year? What would have improved your school musical experience?

Answer the query below.

SchoolBook also has a separate page with data and information for every school in the city. The pages are designed to allow members of the school community to post school news and information, as well as answer queries and ask questions of each other.

You can use the pages to post photos and video, as well as ticket information and useful criticism. It works much as it does on any other social media site: just type or link in the bright yellow box near the top of your school's page that says, "Start a conversation ... "

Lastly, for a treat, Helene Stapinski, a writer, has been chronicling her experiences co-directing her son's fifth-grade musical at Public School 29 in Cobble Hill in a series of SchoolBook posts, "The Munchkins Are a Problem." The last installment will be published on Friday. You can find the previous nine posts here.

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