WESTFIELD, NJ — It has run longer than Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, and Cats. Combined.
This year marks the 70th annual of the Washington School Show, with showings on Friday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. and Saturday at both 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Roosevelt Intermediate School.
This year’s original adaption, #Hack to the Future, features a 150-person cast, ensemble and crew entirely made up of Washington Elementary School parents. Funds raised from the show will donated to the Parent Teacher Organization to better Washington Elementary, along with several charities.
“I’ve never known of another school where the parents put on the show as a fundraiser,” said Sabina Schuttevaer, co-senior producer of the show. ““The kids love to see their parents up on stage. We feel like stars to them. And they see that we have camaraderie and we put our time and effort into a great production that we give back to them. It’s about what we do for them. And they see that.”
#Hack to the Future takes place 25 years in the future. Technology has advanced to point where robots, known as “bots,” do everything. Due to machine learning, the computers in the robots allow them to learn and get smarter on their own. Eventually, these bots decide humans are taking advantage of them, and plot to take over Westfield.
Four Washington school students (played by parents, of course), alongside their teacher Doc and his robot Dab, must figure out how to stop the bots. They travel back in time in a time-traveling Tesla and meet different inventors of different technologies, in search of the inventor of machine learning to “hack” the code so robots never again feel smarter than humans.
Gregory Simpson, a marketer by day who has a son in fifth grade at Washington, wrote the show, which was selected out of six parent-written scripts.
“I came up with the idea thinking about how children today in elementary school use technology a lot, but I'm not sure they are taught a lot about where it came from,” Simpson said. “So the goal was to come up with a show that would educate the audience on the history of technology and the inventors of it.”
Schuttevaer and Simpson agreed the goal of the production is to educate the show’s target audience of elementary school students.
“There is always some kind of lesson to be learned. We want to make it accessible to the kids, and it’s directed towards an audience of first to fifth grade, so its not a Broadway show,” Schuttevaer said. “Its a moral story. So we are trying to teach something, and we are trying to entertain. Expose the kids to the arts.”
The production has always been self-funded by the parents, with the cast rehearsing at night for three weeks at Roosevelt and the ensemble rehearsing since October. With the parents’ efforts, last year’s show raised more than $33,000, over 50 percent of the PTO’s budget, according to Schuttaevaer.
“It is really cool. It’s self-funded, self-driven, self-everything. It’s an autonomous thing,” Schuttaevaer said. “People should come to support our show, especially if they are Westfield residents, because we support one another, we’re a community, we all live here we all work here.”
Gina Tortorella, a choreographer and head dance coordinator of the show, said that there will be a wide variety of performances this year.
“As far as the dances, we have a tap number we have every year, we have a couple of hip hop numbers, a retro 70’s number, so all different varieties, genres of music, that the kids can relate to, the audience can relate to,” Tortorella said. “Like I said, it’s just fun.”
This year’s production will also feature a alumni number, where parents of past Washington students will return to perform.
“If you want a fun, light hearted night out, and to see parents of the community performing for kids on this community, come see us and have a great time,” Tortorella said.
Simpson hopes parents of schools across Westfield will come bring their kids to see the show.
“I think people are going to like the show because its funny, its entertaining, its educational, and most of the scenes are not very long, so it moves very fast,” Simpson said. “I encourage parents from other elementary schools to come and bring their children. I think they will be very impressed with what they see and enjoy it and leave glad that they came.”
Schuttaevaer believes 70 years is just one of many milestones to come for the Washington Elementary School Show: “It all costs money to run a school, and this is why we do it. And why we happily do it. And why we will probably keep doing it for the next 70 years.”
Tickets can be pre-purchased online at https://wes.booktix.com for $13.50, or for $14 at the door.