Tell, Share, and Sell: Summit H.S. 'Sweeney Todd' Cast Relays Expertise to Elementary Students

Summit High School students, and "Sweeney Todd" cast members, Claire Fitzpatrick and Matthew McGinn teach the elementary students a dance routine. Credits: Nicholas Della Sala
From left, Kaylie DeGennaro, Freya TempleWeed and Ruby Wright “strike a pose” on stage. Credits: Rebecca Michaloupolos
Summit High School Drama Club officers created mock audition scenarios for the elementary school students. The workshop was organized by SHS Drama Club President Kelly Reynolds.  From left, Nick Della Sala, Claire Fitzpatrick, Julia Heckelman, Catie Floegel, and Matthew McGinn. Credits: Jamie Heckelman
Elementary school students who attended the free Theatre Workshop brought non-perishable food items for “Mrs. Lovett’s Pantry,” which will be donated to the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank, located in Summit. Credits: Nicholas Della Sala
Credits: File photo

SUMMIT, NJ - As part of Summit High School's (SHS) March 4-7 spring production of Stephen Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," cast members recently lead a free, two-hour Theatre Workshop for third-fifth grade students. 

The evening opened with a Mock Audition panel, where the SHS students acted out four different audition scenarios: someone who is fearful; someone who is unprepared; someone who does not follow directions; and, finally, someone who exemplifies a perfect audition.

“Don’t let nerves take over during an audition,” senior Kelly Reynolds, SHS Drama Club president, told the group of nearly 60 elementary students. Reynolds selected the material for the event and organized the high school students. “Be prepared both mentally and physically,” she added. “Know your material backward and forward.”

“Research your character,” said junior Nick Della Sala, publicist for the Drama Club. “Know which character you are auditioning for and memorize your lines so that you can just be your character during an audition.”

“Know your character’s objective -- or goal -- in a scene,” added junior Claire Fitzpatrick, Drama Club treasurer.

The younger students were given specific advice on how to dress for an audition. Specifically, girls should wear a skirt or dress; boys should wear nice pants and a collared shirt; hair should be clean and away from your face. Senior Matthew McGinn offered one more crucial piece of advice before the groups then rotated through workshops specific to Dancing, Acting and Singing. “Remember to Be Nice” said McGinn, secretary of the Drama Club.

Selling the Song

The key to getting a good sound when singing is warming up both physically and vocally, said senior Julia Heckelman and drama club vice president. “Singing is about getting your body and voice together as one,” she explained. She led the children through exercises including the “Mommy Made Me Mash My M&M’s” vocal warm-up as well as the Ragdoll and Shakedown physical warm-ups. 
Once that concluded, she demonstrated how to bring shoulders up -- but remain relaxed at the same time -- and how to elevate your chest and hold the stomach to get the best vocal performance. “Envision your character and sell the story,” she advised before the children sang Little Red Riding Hood’s portion of the prologue from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Telling the Story 

Working from the "Into the Woods" script, the younger students rehearsed a scene between Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. First they moved around the space, envisioning themselves as the Wolf chasing Little Red. Then, two-at-a-time, they performed a read-through from a scene between the two Sondheim characters. “Memorizing lines ahead of time makes it easier to act,” shared junior Catie Floegel, Drama Club dionysus . “You don’t want to just say the lines. You want to act them.”

Reynolds added that during an audition, it is important to bring physicality to the performance, so that the audience not only hears the character but also sees the character. Diction is important, as well as standing straight, grounded and focused. “Bite into every word,” summarized Jackson Levine, a student at Washington Elementary School.

Sharing the Experience

During the Dance portion of the evening, the high school students taught the elementary school children the choreography for a musical number from "Into the Woods". The high school students stressed that there are additional factors beyond the dance moves themselves that go into making the choreography successful. Feeling the words of the song is just as important as the dance moves. “Dancing is important,” said junior Claire Fitzpatrick, “But what’s really important is smiling and having a good time.”

Whether dancing, singing or acting, one thing remains most important. “Tell the story,” advised Anne Poyner, SHS Drama teacher and Director of Sweeney Todd. “Share the experience with the audience. But you have to have a good time first.”

In conjunction with the Summit High School spring musical, the cast and crew organized a district-wide food drive to help raise awareness of the hunger that exists in our own community. “Help Fight Hunger” collection boxes are located in each of the district’s five elementary schools, Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS) and SHS.

The elementary school students who attended the free SHS Theatre Workshop were asked to bring non-perishable food items to help stock “Mrs. Lovett’s Pantry.” All food items are being donated to the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank, helping Summit families in need.

Sweeney Todd ticket holders are encouraged to bring food donations to the high school when they attend the production the first week of March. Sweeney Todd runs March 4-5  at 6 p.m., and March 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are priced at $13 for students/seniors, $16 for adults, and can be purchased with a credit card. at

For those wishing to pay with cash or check only, In-person ticket sales will be available during the high school lunch Tuesday-Friday, March 3-6; at the LCJSMS lunch Wednesday and Thursday, March 4-5, or at the show each night one hour preceding curtain time.

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