On the Amherst Regional High School cafeteria lawn, an occasional music score can be seen rustling in the wind, while drill bits litter the grass near our new outdoor stage. Any weekday afternoon, choral singing can be heard through the shouts of athletes, as the ARHS theater company prepares for our latest undertaking: an outdoor live production of The Sound of Music, set to run the first weekend of June. As co-stage manager, I reached out to fellow tech leadership and actors for their take on the endeavor.
In the weeks leading up to production, members of the theater company remain hard at work. ARHS theater prides itself on student leadership, especially within technical areas. Being involved for four years myself, I’ve grown tremendously under the mentorship of upperclassmen and technical director Miles Herter. Every minute detail — sound, lighting, costuming, set pieces — is student influenced.
“[For] everything that you see from the audience, there has to be a design decision that gets made of whether something looks like ‘Decision A’ or ‘Decision B’,” explained lighting head Grant Powicki. “We look at the space [and] we say, ‘What are ideas that we haven’t conveyed in the set that we can convey through light? What are moods that can be set even subconsciously in the audience’s mind? What images can we put into their head and build off this set?’”
“We’re left to our own devices, and it’s pretty amazing what we can come up with on our own without a plan or anything,” said Shreya Venkataraman, student tech director. Build tech meets for two hours daily, in which students are currently constructing our outdoor stage. Other build tech tasks include furniture building, platform construction, and painting. Such hefty workloads are manageable given the amount of participation, as newcomers learn skills from more experienced students.
“I remember that I was in [the freshmen’s] shoes at one point. I think everyone kind of has that realization [of] ‘Oh, I was there once too. What did people do for me that made me feel included and made me feel accepted?’” said Powicki. “It’s great to be able to give that back to other people and keep that circle going like a wheel.”
Additionally, of course, are the actors and chorus members who make up the show itself. They work daily with directors John Bechtold and Emily Pritchard, as well as music director Todd Fruth and choreographer Penny Herter.
“I’ve worked with many theater teachers before, and Bech [Bechtold] is very good at what he does,” said George Meade, who will be playing Max Detweiler. “Sometimes you feel like you’re going into [a scene] cold turkey, and he’s just able to make everything seem far more clear, and make your objective obvious in a way that greatly affects how you present your lines.”
The production is distinctively outdoors, in an effort to maintain COVID safety as the pandemic continues. Masks are worn among all cast and crew members yet to be fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, many agreed that the production process has felt relatively normal.
“We’ve done a lot of outdoor theater this year, and it hasn’t felt like we’re making up for not being able to do regular theater.” said stage manager Mariam Ahmed.
Ruthie Weinbaum, who will play Elsa Schraeder, agreed. “It’s been almost a typical theater company year in terms of the number and quality of productions,” she said.
From an audience standpoint, some aspects of the viewing experience may feel less familiar. Pods will be expected to sit ten feet apart from one another, changing the usual sense of audience unity. “It’s definitely going to be harder for the audience members to experience as a whole, as one body rather than individual pods,” said Powicki.
Despite these differences, I am profoundly grateful for the closure that goes alongside a final senior show. Last year’s production of Spring Awakening was set for a March 13 opening a night, and faced a crushing cancellation due to the lockdown. Now, over a year later, the theater company turns a new leaf.
“I think it’s been really important, especially in these years of my life, to have something that’s constant in my life, and a creative outlet,” said Weinbaum, also a senior. “Sometimes in high school, it feels like you lose all your creativity because you’re just doing the assignments that your teachers tell you to do.”
Said Powicki, “I’ve seen the finished product and I know that’s going to be wonderful. But I’ve also seen all the incredible hard work that goes into making that finished product, and seeing people’s blood, sweat, and tears go into these sets and into these designs into these costumes.”
I sense the show will profoundly impact viewers, many of whom will not have seen live musical theater since the start of the pandemic. The Sound of Music in particular feels incredibly appropriate, if not for the relevant social commentary, then for the sheer power of unified, singing voices.
The title song of the show, “The Sound of Music,” concludes with the lines “I know I will hear / what I’ve heard before / My heart will be blessed with the sound of music / and I’ll sing once more.” After many months of isolation, these lyrics serve as a joyful reminder of the ARHS theater company’s spirit and resilience. Come with enthusiasm, pride, and picnic blankets.
Juvenescence is a monthly column focusing on area youth. Readers with suggestions for future stories can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annalise Peterson is a senior at Amherst Regional High School, where she can be found running cross country, stage managing, and playing ultimate. Her writing has appeared in ARHS’s The Graphic, the New England High School Journalism Collaborative’s The Vanguard, and the Amherst Indy.