July 26, 2007
High school students back in the spotlight
By Sarah Horner
After a seven-year hiatus, the Duluth school district
is reviving its citywide high school musical with “Fame,”
and just like the lyrics in its hit song, this time supporters hope
the program is “gonna live forever.”
From its inception in 1986, the program pulled
performers — from incoming freshmen to outgoing seniors —
from the three public high schools to perform a summer musical.
Budget constraints caused the program to be dropped in 2001 but
supporters lobbied for its reinstatement.
“If we want the city to come together, this
is the way to do it,” said Mark Overland, Denfeld’s
choral director and the producer for “Fame.” “Put
students to a common cause where there is no competition and let
them create something.”
It’s similar to cooking, said Liz Larson,
theater director at Central High School and choreographer for “Fame.”
“It’s like when you’re having
a bickery day with your spouse,” she said. “If you decide
to cook something together you know by the time it’s finished
you’ll get over it. By creating something together we bring
our community and our kids closer.”
The six-week summer enrichment program allows
students to dig a little deeper into their craft. Students who are
swamped with other activities during the school year can explore
theater during their summer break.
“We have a hockey player doing a show for
the first time,” said Matthew Pursi, a Denfeld alumnus who
serves as a freelance director for the school’s plays. “He
could never do theater before because he was always playing during
the school year. There are way fewer conflicts for kids in the summer.”
Instead of looking to just one professional to
teach choreography, music and acting, students get to work with
the best from each of the district’s three high schools. Larson
teaches choreography while Pursi directs. Jerry Upton, East’s
choral director, is the vocal director and Sebastian Tackling, Denfeld’s
band director, is music director.
“It allows each of us to focus on one area,
which enhances the quality of the show,” Larson said. “Plus
each school with its own program brings a different style. I came
in one morning and the kids were stretching and talking and I was
like ‘No, no, no; we stretch our legs, not our mouths.’
If it’s [Pursi’s] rehearsal, he can do whatever he darn
well pleases. I want focus, so you get that stylistic difference.”
The team approach also deepens the show’s
pockets, Pursi said.
“We have 120 costumes for a 30-member cast
for this show; if this were a Denfeld show we might have 30 costumes,
one for each kid,” he said.
The production staff chose “Fame”
for its scope.
“The goal of the summer musical is to be
an enrichment program. We want to enrich students by providing them
with a venue that they can come to when they are not in school and
learn more about performing and all the aspects that come with it,”
Larson said, such as singing, dancing and set building. “
‘Fame’ has a lot of those elements.”
“Fame” tells the story of a group
of high school students honing their craft in the hopes of becoming
famous after they leave New York’s High School for Performing
Arts. The performance is kind of a sequel to the 1980 movie but
with all new characters, Pursi said. But the theme remains true
to its predecessor.
“It’s about big hair, big, bright
prom dresses and I think big dreams,” Pursi said.
Students from all three high schools make up the
28-member cast. Another seven students serve on the crew with 10
more in the orchestra pit.
Brian Langlee, a recent Denfeld graduate who landed
one of the lead roles, said he is having a blast.
“I like having different people here. I
am so used to the Denfeld crowd but I like getting the Central and
East kids in here,” said Langlee, who plays Schlomo Metzenbaum.
“We’ve become like a big family; we already know each
other too well.”
Sarah Eliason, an East student who portrays Carmen
Diaz, describes the experience as amazing.
“I’ve met so many awesome people,
people I probably wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for
this,” she said. “Yeah, it is during the summer when
I could be sleeping in, but then I would be sitting home bored with
nothing to do.”
Overland hopes the show is successful enough to
keep the program alive for years. Ticket sales need to pay back
the show’s production costs, which are around $7,000, and
supporters will have to convince the school district to keep the
summer musical on its priority list.
“We have to show the community that this
is a viable summer program,” Larson said. “It’s
good for our schools, good for our kids and good for our community.”