There are many aspects of St. Michael’s College School’s 2019 Spring Musical that the production’s director cannot wait to watch.
"The story of 'Fiddler on the Roof' requires real depth of emotion from the performers,” says Alison O’Neill, Musical Theatre and English teacher. “Watching them already, I am brought to tears because of the power of the script and how truthfully and honestly the students are telling these stories,” she says.
This is the third time in the school’s history that Fiddler of the Roof is being staged by SMCS students. The first time was in 1973, then 1991.
After reviewing at least seven other options, O’Neill says Fiddler was the perfect choice.
“Primarily, I was looking for something that had a lot of male roles so that we could showcase the talent of our students,” says O’Neill, who will be directing her seventh theatre production at SMCS.
DEEP TALENT POOL
"We try to pick a show that is a good fit for the particular group of students that we have," says O'Neill. "Every year we are surprised by new talent from students who are auditioning for the first time. We have many students who are new to our cast this year, a number of whom are in Grade 8, 9 and 10. It is really exciting to see their ability develop throughout the rehearsal process,” she says.
Based on short stories penned by author Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler on the Roof is set in the early 1900s in a small Russian village and tells the story of a man and his family grappling with profound and unsettling change.
“Fiddler has a large male cast - both lead roles and ensemble members, and we wanted to showcase our male talent. We try to get a contrast in the style of the show from year to year. Last year, Beauty and the Beast was fun, humorous, comical. Fiddler on the Roof is a totally different ball game. The story is powerful and requires some real acting chops to be able to support it,’ adds O’Neill.
LEADING THE WAY
She says one of the other perks of this year’s roster is the number of strong Grade 12 students in the musical --- many of whom have participated in theatre productions at SMCS since they were in Grades 7 and 8.
Marco Sconza is one of them. The Grade 12 student will be taking part in his fourth theatrical production at SMCS this spring.
“As the musical’s main antagonist, it’s rather astonishing to delve into the lessons your character can deliver,” says Sconza. “Fiddler on the Roof portrays a period of time that is considered to be a textbook example of oppression, and really encourages every actor in the cast to step outside of their comfort zone in considering harsh living conditions outside of our own.”
Sconza has acted in two dramas and two musicals during his time at the school.
“Watching from the audience provided me with such enjoyment whenever I came to see an SMCS production,” he says. “However, I began to find that watching was never enough for me. Combined with my desire to be involved, I had fellow peers encouraging me to join and it was from this that the theatre community at this school would be the home of my greatest high school memories.”
And perhaps his university memories too. Sconza will be studying theatre at York University next year.
POWER OF PERFORMANCE
Fellow Grade 12 student, Davide Sallese, is one of two students sharing the lead role of Tevye.
“He's a character with a lot of different dimensions - loving father, proud and stubborn head of family, conservative adherent to tradition - that I need to incorporate in a genuine way without each contradicting another,” says Sallese, set to take part in his ninth SMCS production.
“I have made so many friendships I would not have made otherwise, and performing on stage has done a lot to make me a better speaker and help me overcome any shyness I used to have.”
He adds, “The busy and stressful time around the shows is a transformative experience where you get to learn so much and bond with others - had I not participated in SMCS theatre during my time here, I would be very different from who I am today!”
BY THE NUMBERS
440 Seating capacity in the Centre for the Arts (theatre)
250+ Hours of cast rehearsals from October to April performance
80 Total cast and crew (44 cast, 33 stage crew and 3 orchestra)
25 Female performers
17 Total number of Go-Pro cameras to capture footage from individual performers/crew
12 Hours of cast rehearsals per week from January to April
7 Schools where female performers come from
9 Live performances in 2019
6 Hours of rehearsals per week from October to January
3. Professional theatre technicians instructing student stage crew until opening night
“The Musical Theatre Class is a tremendous learning opportunity for our students. Grade 11 and 12 students take on leadership roles in different creative and technical elements of the production,” says O’Neill, who has spent countless hours of her time overseeing scheduling of all participants, set and costume design and other details. “Stage management, lighting, sound, assistant music directing, video production, props management, fight choreography --- the students take responsibility for these departments and myself and the technical theatre staff oversee and provide guidance.”
And that brings us to something else O’Neill says she cannot wait to see.
“There are some very exciting technical elements in this year’s production. The show contains a nightmare sequence where the main character, ‘Tevye’, is haunted by an evil spirit. The ghost of ‘Fruma Sarah’ is terrifying and she will be making her entrance on a seven foot platform, complete with low lying fog, dynamic lighting effects and powerhouse vocals. Liam Abbott, our Stage Manager, is responsible for calling over 20 different cues within a five-minute song. I can’t wait!”
‘Fiddler on the Roof’ runs April 4-6 and 11-13, 2019, in the Centre for the Arts at St. Michael’s College School. For tickets and show information, click here.