BWW Blog: Kate Caton - Creating a Connection: Education and Theatre
Creating a Connection: Education and Theatre
The overall benefits to lifelong learners
Kathy Caton-Director of Theatre
Drury Stage Company
North Adams, MA
If it's out of reach, stretch!
I am currently in the final stages of presenting a one weekend performance of Peter Shaffer's award winning play, "Amadeus". Researching the Sam French website, I notice yet again that few high schools attempt to take on this intricate and thought-provoking piece of art. And in this instance, although this is my second time directing this play for high school, this is now a new, revised script, due to the author's constant amendments. I've spent the last six months designing and the last three months directing this award winning classic for our school community here in North Adams. With three dress rehearsals next week, we open April 28th at Drury High School for a three-night run.
To be honest, this venture has been a bit overwhelming. As I listen to the masterworks of Mozart, I am constantly thinking:
Will this award winning play hold our community's interest? How will Mozart and Salieri's lives, intertwined with deceit and vengeance, transfer to our school community?
"Amadeus" again, is not performed frequently in this area, and in the last decade, only attempted once by an equity house in Pittsfield, MA. The show has survived 25 years largely due to the success of the film as well as the author's intent on reviving the play numerous times. Of course, in a day and age that brings to our living rooms television dramas such as "The Blacklist", "Supergirl" and "Elementary", can the intrigue of 18th century deception , vengeance and envy, be appealing to both our students and our audiences?
I also put a little added stress on myself by directing this once again for high school. I grew up in New York, the theatre capital of the Northern Hemisphere. I have been to England. I've visited Salzburg, the very place that Mozart spent much of his time. I have performed his works as a soloist, conductor and choir member and have embraced his art. I embodied myself as an undergraduate music education major in all aspects of 18th century music. I continued my studies in the UK where Mozart and his music has become a commodity. I have read numerous books on the subject of Mozart and Vienna. I was witness to the Broadway production in the early 1990's. I really wanted to make sure my process was on the mark when trying to do the show justice in a high school setting. Thanks to a superbly talented and devoted design staff and cast at Drury High, I think I accomplished my goal.
We all have our own reasons for pursuing the craft of theatre education. I thoroughly adore the teaching aspect of it and watching the "ah ha" moments glisten in the eyes of the actors and the crew. I was fortunate to experience those moments as a student at Commack High School South, under the direction of Theodore Kastrinos. One of my most memorable compliments I received as a director was three years ago, during my first Drury Stage Company inclusive production at Drury High School, "The Music Man". When I saw the Meredith Willson revival on Broadway, I said to myself that if I were to ever direct the show again, I would ask for a live marching band to re-create the Save a Soul Mission Band segments within the show. Thanks to my colleagues at Drury, the entire marching band was engaged in the show, and the finale included a marching band formation in the auditorium. The experience was bone chilling. After the show, one man stopped to talk with me and chimed, "Promise me you will never retire!" And since then, I have continued to direct and produce plays and musicals for Drury Stage Company. I have encountered a groundswell of interest from the students in our community to participate in the shows, with no retirement plans for my future. Each year, we raise the bar.
In our society, theatre is a great shared ritual, like sports for example. Not only do we host talented students that are engaged in athletic and the after school theatre initiative, we share the same basic principles - teamwork, perseverance, self- worth, the value of practice, refining skills and the desire to be successful. These attributes remind us that we are just a small part of a larger purpose.
It's the connectedness to something bigger than ourselves that is at the very core of theatre education and why I do what I do. The human spirit can be both uplifted and deceived. Man's connection to a higher power has always permeated the generations of global humanity. Exploring life and death, its inevitability and how we humans work through that reality pervades through the play. These are all central themes of "Amadeus". I was confidently reminded of these themes last week in rehearsal.
Jacob, the actor which plays Mozart, came to me in the hallway one afternoon and exclaimed, "Ms. Caton, we recorded the whisperers today and they sound awesome! Can you come into the auditorium to hear them?" Jacob, being a performing arts management student, knows the workings of the sound board and our Salieri, Nick, just happened to be on the stage. Jacob yelled, "Nick, get into your wheelchair"! As Jacob dimmed the house lights, he left a hazy blue light shining onto the stage as he slowly increased the whispers volume, incorporating our surround sound amplification system and awaiting my response. I exclaimed, "Jacob, this is so cool!" His reply was, "I know! Three of the cast members put this together in class this morning. I cannot wait; this show is going to be so cool!"
Jacob, a senior actor who came to me as a hesitant, shy and unassuming junior, now has a new connection to the human spirit, Master Mozart, thanks to Peter Shaffer's work and Jacob's willingness to embark on this incredible journey. I was taken aback by that telling experience.
As I reflected, I thought: This is monumental. This and so many other "ah ha" moments are a true testament to the production process, to the actors, artists and crew members and to the power of theatre as a shared, life-altering encounter. Film, books, podcasts and Netflix are delightful; however, there is something unique and inspiring about being involved in a live educational theatrical experience. Working in districts where theatre arts are not a consideration, I have witnessed a significant difference in the student growth, achievement, versatility and creativity. Our independent schools hosts quality theatrical dramatic programs; all public schools all need to get on the theatre track.
Applause can be gratifying and positive reviews are appreciated. Box office sales are continually favorable, especially when production costs do not exceed budgetary restrictions. However, recognizing you created a connection? For me, it's those "ah ha" moments during the process: the tears shed, the goosebumps felt during many blocking rehearsals, the transformations from the students to the actors as well as so many other moments I've had the pleasure to witness. Most of all, I revel in the reactions of the cast when the audience applause becomes deafening. When all of the pieces fit together, the craft of quality educational theatre becomes an invaluable and precious voyage for all.