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March Madness:Musicals and Reflections

March for me, has always meant “Spring Musicals.” It’s “March Madness” is another form!

When I was a part of The PA Academy of Music and Popovsky Performing Arts from 2008-2015, I always looked forward to making the trek to see all of my students in their spring musicals.

Since I was a teacher to singers in many of the local schools in Lancaster County, I visited McCaskey, Lancaster Catholic, Warwick, Manheim Township, Penn Manor, Conestoga Valley, etc. I loved seeing how EVERY single high school in this area “brought it.” They brought their talent, their creativity, their passion for the performing arts in all of their brilliance.

You see, Spring Musical season in Lancaster County is amazing. These kids, COUNTY-WIDE are super talented, have amazing arts teachers at their schools, have amazing parents supporting the production, and a plethora of private voice teachers and dance studios helping to fully train at a higher level.

From 2015 to 2019, when I was the Choral Director and Music Director at Linden Hall, I was learned first-hand JUST how challenging it was to be on the production team of a high school musical. I witnessed how so many people come together to support the amazing efforts of the students’ onstage. And, I missed seeing all of the other musicals in the county because I was working so hard in my little corner of the world!

When I left Linden Hall in 2019, I was so sad to be leaving such a beautiful community. I started ResonateYou in August 2019, and when February 2020 came around and I looked at the line-up of my current singers that I would “get to” go see in their spring musicals, I got so excited to “make my rounds” again!

Well, we all know what happened. Students missed their shows, and everything was stopped or put on hold. When March 2021 came around, there were pockets of shows, but vaccines weren’t quite through the population yet, and I saw a few streaming shows online.

But this year, it is just so heart-warming to see the big, bright musicals back onstage with all of their glory, and watching the young people share all that they’ve learned and studied with the audience again. And WE are in the audience just loving every real moment of the in-person experience.

You see, that’s how theatre works. You can’t have one without the other. The actors onstage need the audience as much as the audience needs the actors. We got through it. We went into our homes, sang into the computer screen, just so that “the show could go on.” But there is just something so energetically moving about being in the same room, having that cathartic experience together.

Congrats, singers, actors, dancers, musicians, production team, and supporters! Enjoy this "March Madness" Musical time!

Leads and Ensemble Members…I see you.

When I was the Music Director at Linden Hall, it came with the joy of producing musicals, but also the heart-wrenching responsibility of “casting.” Everyone wanted to be a “lead.”

You see, there are so many talented and hard-working kids, and MANY students could feasibly “do” the role. Seeing the disappointment of the kids who were really just as talented “not get cast” in the role they yearned for, it just broke my heart each year.

But growing up, I was in both places: many lead roles, and many times in the ensemble as well.

You see, when I was in grade school and high school, I had the amazing experiences of portraying many lead roles. I was the one who happen to become Annie, Glinda, Mary Poppins, Liesl, and Sgt. Sarah Brown in “Guys n Dolls.”

During my grade school years, I worked very hard taking dance, acting, voice, and piano lessons. And while it was enjoyable to be in those roles, I had to work very hard onstage, even while doing my schoolwork. I had to bring my fullest every night, and still get up and go to school the next day.

I remember always getting very sick the weekend after the shows concluded. My body always held out during the “run”, but then broke down just after. This is a very real occurrence when you’ve pushed that hard. I remember my parents saying I was “burning the candles at both ends.” Only later in life did I come to realize how important taking time to REST was to the whole process of performing.

But the show much go on, right? There were times when it was really hard to do that.

I even remember this one time my senior year, we had been given this unfortunate news that a beloved English teacher of ours, who was also our Student Council faculty member, had sadly died in an unfortunate car crash. We were given the news, and then had to go put our costumes on for an interview with the local newspaper promoting the Spring Musical, “Guys & Dolls.” I remember thinking how heartbroken I was, but I had to put on a “happy face.” I still look back at myself in the picture of the article and think: I was there in the room and in the picture, but I was thinking about Mr. Larsen.

Whether you are a lead or in the ensemble, you are a part of the WHOLE show, and it is intrinsic to the success of the entirety. As an ensemble member, you work just as hard, even when there are emotional stresses going on “behind the scenes” as well.

For many years, I was fortunate enough to be cast in the ensembles of shows as well. Dancing and singing, I worked just as hard as the “leads,” but maybe not be “seen” or “heard” as much. Or was I?

I was a dancer in the "The Music Man," with my favorite dance partner, Jesse, and we got to experience the challenge and awe of “Shipoopi” and “Marian, the Librarian.”

I got to sing my heart out in the ensemble of “Oklahoma,” and I will never forget singing/spelling it out with my friends: O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!

I got to learn the beautiful, intricate harmonies in the choral parts when I was a nun in "The Sound of Music."

And I got to share in the camaraderie of being backstage with a group of people you’ll never forget.

Whenever I was in the ensemble, I still did all of the acting aspects of a lead, but I would just “make it all up” on my own. I would still pick out a name and choose a backstory, and talk to people onstage, and just basically play “pretend.” It was fun to improvise and interact with the other people in the ensemble and “play” and find something new each night.

I even built my college application essay around an experience I had when I was a junior in highschool, and was in “The Music Man.” I was playing around “in the background” with my friend, and I said, “I can’t WAIT to be in the band.” And he whipped around to me and said, “YOU can’t be in the band, you’re a GIRL!” And this rage fueled up inside of me. I remember thinking, “How dare he say that I can’t be in this band?!”

But in the time capsule of that musical, he was right. It was a boys band, and I wouldn’t have been allowed. But in my feminist upbringing in the 1990s, I never dreamed that I COULDN’T be in the band. At that point in my life, I had not been exposed to that level of sex discrimination until I experienced it in that “improv” scene in the background. I was blown away, and have always remembered how thankful I was that I “experienced” this from the acting perspective and not actual reality. It was enough of a lesson to me. Just another example of the power of theatre.

And so, whenever, I go visit my students’ in their shows, I pay particular attention to the ensemble members. I am familiar with most musicals these days, so I know the story, and know what the main characters are going to say and do, and so these days my eyes always go check out what the ensemble members are doing.

THIS is what fascinates me: watching ensemble members being super creative! They will do things “in the background,” of a scene that is deeply interesting to watch and be curious about their backstory. I love it.

I was there too dear, proud, amazing ensemble member, and I am writing this to tell you that I SEE YOU. I HEAR YOU! You are JUST as amazing as the students “getting” to play the leads onstage. I even see you and watch you when the lead is taking her/his bow. I’ve been there. You work just as hard and you are just as amazing.

Whether you are an ensemble member or a lead role, I wish you all the best in this season of performing. Enjoy each delicious moment. Soak it up now that it’s here! And REST when it’s done!

See you at the next local musical, Jen


P.S. Want to learn to sing but always been putting it on the back burner? The Online "Voice Fundamentals Course" is coming soon. The next "Sing Your Heart Out" class begins in April. Details coming...

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