Theatre is one of the activities that is often overlooked. Too many people have a bad perception of theatre or think it is dumb. You may just go to a show for maybe half an hour or up to two hours and not think anything about it, but really the amount of time and energy going into those two hours is huge. North High theater director, Tom Gillen shared about everything that goes on behind the scenes.
“There are some students that think of theatre as their reason to show up to school; it’s their ‘spark.’ I like to treat the theatre department as a second home for kids. I try to make it a safe and encouraging location where kids can just have fun,” said Gillen.
Many students have been in rough times, and they turned to theatre. In theatre, students can really be themselves and have no fear of being judged; as Gillen stated, the theatre department is truly their second home.
North High has been doing shows ever since the beginning, and Gillen has been directing for about 17 years and will continue for many more to come. But these shows would not be able to continue without the amazing staff. The director and assistant directors are Gillen and his wife, Rachel Gillen, and they both are amazing, warm-hearted people who will do anything for their students’ successes.
“They are the most supportive directors and mentors I’ve ever worked with,” Tyler Hoverson, a freshman of the theatre department, said.
“I love them, they’re so welcoming to the department.” Piper Gimbal, a junior techie added.
The vocal director Katy DaMicio is another great help to the department, she is always there for the students and encourages us to do our best. Then there’s David Triptow, the head dance director, who is amazing. He takes each individual student into account and uses their strengths for the betterment of the whole cast.
This isn’t even all of the amazing people there are in the department; there’s also costume designer, photographer, and the music teachers who help with the pit and accompanying. The directors at North High make these experiences even more amazing. Without them we would not be where we are today. They take their students’ talent and raise it to the top; they help them access their full potential and we students couldn’t ask for any teachers better for the job.
“I teach seventh grade drama at Ben, so I know there are students out in the halls that are born performers. I always say, ‘don’t make it a regret.’ Come audition and give it a shot. Give it your best and try not to be intimidated by the process. Students new to the program can feel overwhelmed at first,” Gillen said.
People in theatre arts get a bad rep all the time, as they get the label of being “weird” and are always being judged. But these kids use the performing arts department to express themselves freely, and, if acting is their passion, they should be able to pursue it without getting hated on. Some may seem “odd” to you, but who isn’t? Just because someone has different hobbies and interests does not make them more weird than you. As I have said, performing arts is there for kids to express themselves and do what they love. Whether that is playing an instrument, acting, dancing, or singing, performing arts is there for them. So next time you try to judge someone because they are a “theatre kid,” remember you are just like them, you could just be a “football kid” or something on the lines of that.
So if you are thinking about joining the North High theatre department please just try it and see if it is a fit for you. As Gillen said, it is better to try it out and know what it feels like, rather than regret not trying at all. I know of a student that joined their sophomore year and they said they regret not starting sooner. You can listen to me rave about this department and how amazing it is, but you never know what could be behind the door until you open it and see for yourself. But if you aren’t joining for the fear of being judged for being in theatre just know the department and the students involved are a very accepting group and would love to welcome in new people.
Now onto what exactly goes on behind the scenes of these shows. The first week is made up of auditioning time, directors choosing who is needed for callbacks, and the directors making the cast, which is a very hard thing to do for the directors. The casts are made up of 25-30 students so cuts have to be made. Usually the auditions are in the beginning of the week, Monday and Tuesday, then callbacks are in the middle, most likely on the following Thursday, then finally the cast list goes up that Friday or Saturday. The whole week is very nerve racking and exciting leading up to the list being posted. If you get in it’s only the beginning. The next following week intols reading through the script and getting to know the cast. As for those who do not make it, it’s not the end for them either. There are always other ways to be a part of a show.
Gillen states, “We have several ways that students can be involved without ever having to be in front of an audience. You could just take theatre classes, you could be in our technical theatre program, we always are looking for hair and makeup help, we always need help with the box office or tickets.”
There is always something for everyone, so don’t be afraid if something doesn’t work out. There is also a pit for those who play instruments.
Once rehearsals start, things start to pick up the pace. Each show usually takes around 8 weeks to put together. This may not seem like a long time, but these 8 weeks are super busy for each person involved. Especially show week, the last couple weeks of rehearsals normally go from 4pm-10pm after school. Each rehearsal is filled with hours of blocking, reading and learning lines, costume fittings, creating the set pieces, and so much more. For the musical, hours of choreography and learning the songs are on top of all that as well.
The latest musical was “Tuck Everlasting,” and as Covid has really taken a toll on this last year’s shows, a lot of changes were made to accommodate for the virus. These changes include, taking out stage kisses, wearing masks, less physical contact, and for those who have to quarantine must join on Zoom and learn from home. Which is difficult directing and teaching the choreography, when there isn’t a person there to see if it even works out. Overall these past couple shows have been a totally new experience for all involved in the program, but quitting is never an option. We have put together Zoom shows when we couldn’t be in person, for “She Kills Monsters” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” Finally, now we got the chance to do an in-person musical, we made the best of what we could and next season we will come back better than ever.
The Gillens will be holding auditions for the next musical, which has not been announced yet, the week of August 30, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to think about auditioning, but if you are interested please just go for it and see if it is right for you. As Gillen said, don’t make it a regret, it couldn’t hurt trying. The theatre family will welcome you in! It is a safe place to express yourself and try new things. A lot of time, energy, and people go into each show and the department is always looking for some new faces to welcome. Next time you hear about a meeting or auditions maybe try to check it out yourself, who knows, that one audition could change your life.