Showtime! Inside the most intense middle school musical ever
When the lights go up on the eighth-grade musical at the Hockaday School Saturday evening, around 100 lifelong dreams will be fulfilled. A middle school play might sound like amateur hour to most people, but there's nothing dilettantish about this show, which includes authentic antique props, a handful of set changes, and a seasoned staff of directors and choreographers.
This year's production is Annie, and it's only the fourth time in Hockaday history the play has been performed. Director Susan Hubbard, who has been working on the eighth-grade musical for 20 years, says the importance of the class-wide production cannot be overstated.
There's nothing dilettantish about this show, which includes authentic antique props, set changes, and a seasoned staff of directors and choreographers.
"They've been watching the eighth-grade musical since they were in kindergarten," Hubbard says. "It's something they dream about."
A rigorous schedule
Since before the fall semester began, the girls have been diligently practicing for three hours every other day, including Saturdays. To accommodate the rehearsals, the cast had to make sacrifices.
"We take away their study hall," Hubbard says. "Sometimes they get 15 minutes, sometimes none at all."
The play includes a role for each of Hockaday's 95 eighth-graders. Positions range from lead characters to stock orphans, set designers and lighting directors. Of course, the girls do have some help. Parent committees including "microphone moms" and "set dads" fill in the gaps in production.
In addition to Hubbard, the Hockaday staff side of the cast includes choreographer Beth Wortley, who is also the director of the school's dance department; technical director Robert Kallos; and musical director Bonnie Jean Coleman, or Miss Bonnie Jean as she is affectionately referred to by all members of the Hockaday community.
Behind the scenes
At a rehearsal earlier this month, a giddy chorus of adolescent girls shuffled into Hoblitzelle Auditorium. Oxford shoes untied, pleated skirts all askew, the army of actresses half-attempted a costume change before their scene.
"They've been watching the eighth-grade musical since they were in kindergarten," says Hockaday's Susan Hubbard. "It's something they dream about."
"Orphans! Take your place behind the curtain!" Hubbard commanded. "Absolutely no talking!"
There's something endearing about students at one of the most exclusive private schools in the country slumming it in ragged clothes and scuffed shoes.
In the next scene, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat comfortably in an antique wheelchair from the 1920s. A presidential seal entered aerially. As Roosevelt met with his advisors, Hubbard admonished her actresses while Miss Bonnie Jean took feverish notes.
"Worried, worried! You don't look worried enough!" Hubbard shouted as the music for "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" filled the auditorium.
The amount of time and energy that goes into this middle school play is impressive, if not a little over the top. But the result is amazing.
"It's unlike any other musical on earth," choreographer Beth Wortley says. "We do the full Broadway production and then some."
The eighth-grade production of Annie will be performed at 7:30 pm Saturday and 2 pm Sunday at Hockaday's Hoblitzell Auditorium. There is no cost for admission, but space fills up quickly, so don't tarry.