SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The Grant School Drama Club celebrated a successful year with an after school wrap party on Friday, May 17th. Students were treated to snacks, pizza and cake while watching a special viewing of their Spring Musical, “Bye Bye Birdie,” which they performed on April 16th and 17th. The production featured 150 students, who were in charge of everything from building the stage and handling the technical aspects of putting on a show, to acting, singing and dancing.
“I think it’s just awesome that we have the students take over every role of production,” said Music Teacher Joan Stasio, Co-Director. “There are so many lessons that they learn as well as how to work as a team, trouble shoot, and solve problems. They get the full theater experience of all the disciplines, which gets them ready for the next time they do a show. All this that they are learning is so beneficial.”
“We pride ourselves on making this a kid run production even at such a young age,” said Teacher Susan Eichert, Co-Director. “We know it’s tough to be involved in theater because there are sports and other clubs, but we want this to be accessible to everyone because theater is such a positive influence on your life.”
“I played Ursula Merkle,” said Paige Jones, fifth grade student, who played one of the lead roles. “I really liked it. It was cool. I really just liked being on the stage with my friends.”
“It was really fun being a main character in the play,” said Gabriella Ettore, sixth grader. “I played the mayor’s wife and my favorite scene was when I had to faint and scream and fall on the floor. It was fun, playing it because everyone would laugh and I had to sit there.”
Students worked together, along with their directors, to create a full production for two sold out performances.
“They’re really learning from ground zero because it’s not in an auditorium and that’s basically what we’re doing,” said Stasio. “We’re starting from scratch so that’s a really good learning experience for them.”
“It was really based on teamwork for us in making this production happen,” said Alex Ndegwa, fifth grader on the Publicity Crew. “We all did this together and we have to give credit to all of us. This cast party gave us a good thing to remember how much work we did.”
“We had about 100 kids on stage as part of the cast and about 50 kids as part of the production team and they did everything,” said Eichert. “They’re only fifth and sixth graders, but they did all of the scene changes. They made all of the back drops. They painted all of those. They painted all of the set. They ran the sound the night of the show. They did all of the spotlight and lighting work.”
“The kid did really well,” said Stasio. “We try to do a Disney or a more popular kids’ themed show one year and then I try to do something more classic the next year. That way they’re getting the experience of doing all different types of shows. And I think they really could relate to the themes in this show with kids gossiping on the telephone and talking about everything, whereas today everybody texts everything. There were a lot of common themes.”
With so many children involved in the show, the coordination took months of preparation and a team of directors. Stasio and Eichert directed, while Music Teacher, Shannon Maddolin handled teaching the students the technical aspects of the performance as the Technical Director and Coordinator. Although the budget allotted to the production is small, Drama Club fundraising contributes to purchase the needed equipment and other expenses associated with a production of this magnitude.
“Working with the students was wonderful,” said Maddolin. “It was nice to revisit the roots of my technical beginnings. The kids were eager to learn the ins and outs of what it takes from the technical aspects of theater to put on a production.”
“It was very fun and entertaining,” said Vivian Capossi, sixth grader. “I was in the back stage crew and really enjoyed the experience.”
Over a third of the school participate in Drama Club and many students say they want to continue participating in drama programs in the future.
“I played Rosie Alvarez and it was a great experience,” said Gianna Romero, sixth grade. “It was very fun and I made a lot of new friends. It was like a whole family. It’s scary at first to be in front of an audience, but then you get used to it over time. I definitely want to be in plays as I get older.”
“I was a police officer,” said Korey Calderone, fifth grader. “It was a lot of fun being in the play and it was nice to bond with everyone and grow as a team all together. It was a lot of fun working with all our friends.”
“I think it was really fun to do a play with all of my friends at school,” said Emily Tichopp, sixth grade member of the cast. “The best part was the performance because we got to do it for all of our parents and friends.”
The students even learned the importance of promoting theatrical performances.
“I was in publicity,” said Ella Kloby, fifth grader. “We did a lot of stuff to promote the play. We made posters and it was really fun.”
This production marked the 17th Grant School Drama Production. Stasio has been heading up the drama club since 2003.
“It was really rewarding to see the high school show and to see every single kid on that stage had a starring role in our shows here,” said Stasio. “I went home and was crying. I said to my husband that I guess this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. Just to see them still performing, it just means everything.”
This year’s show selection of “Bye Bye Birdie” held special meaning for Stasio.
“My dad was in the army with Elvis Presley in 1959,” said Stasio. “And that’s what this show was about. The character of Conrad Birdie went going into the army and everybody was upset because they were going to miss listening to him sing. ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ is a classic and favorite of many, depicting events in history in simpler, yet similar times.”
Grant welcomes all students and the performance featured special needs students as well.
“We had some of the fifth grade special needs students involved in the roles and on the production team,” said Stasio. “They did a really good job.”
The directors feel that Drama Club is a perfect fit for those students with an array of different talents.
“With Drama Club, we’ve got dance and the music behind it, but then you’ve also got all the technical things that are going on in the background and so there’s really a place for everyone,” said Eichert.
“Usually the kids that are involved in the show are all the best music kids, who take private lessons, they’re the best band kids, the best chorus kids, the best string kids,” said Stasio. “It’s just all fits together. It’s all music and I am so proud of the accomplishments of the kids.”
“Even for those kids who don’t participate in sports, but maybe they’re dancers, singers or have an affinity for technology, it gives them some place at school to shine,” said Eichert. “Drama Club is for anyone and everyone, whoever you are. That’s why we do what we do every year.”
All Grant School students interested in participating in the Grant School Drama Program are urged to inquire at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Stasio is also the Vocal Director of this year’s Summer Drama Workshop.
The Summer Drama Program is open to any student entering seventh grade through the end of their first year in college and is not limited to South Plainfield residents. Anyone interested in taking part in the production as part of the stage crew, pit orchestra or as part of the ensemble can visit the South Plainfield Summer Drama Workshop Facebook Page for more information.