Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Of Snow Days and Musicals...

Charlton Road in Charlton
at 10 am on March 19

As a kid I remember waking up on winter nights and looking out the window at the streetlight to see if it was still snowing. I remember waking up to Don Weeks on my AM radio, hoping to hear “New Lebanon Central Schools- CLOSED”. As I celebrated the free day off, my “6th grade” self never gave a thought to the kind of intense deliberation that went into each decision to close or delay school. Now I know. :)

I apologize for the late “change in status” of these past two snow days. Believe me, the changes were not made lightly. They were both made from my van on the road, checking conditions, on the phone with (Transportation Supervisor) Rich Hewlett looking at the radar on my cell phone, and listening to weather reports. While both calls ended up being the right decision, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be done!  It leads to inconvenience, I know. I really apologize for that. For some parents it meant leaving work and going back to pick up kids from day care. Some of our teachers had already begun the commute to school.  This will not be the typical method of closing, I assure you.  Rich tells me that in his 10 years here at BH-BL, he cannot remember two back-to-back decisions that were so tough.

It all starts calmly enough… 4:30 text messages between myself and neighboring superintendents, phone calls to the bus garage… booting up the laptop to go to the school closing web page, trying make a call as close to 5:00 am as possible. Remember the dire predictions of the “Storm of the Century” earlier in the winter- the day that everyone closed and we didn’t have a flake on the ground? Well these last two storms were different. At 5:00 am it seemed like they were each about to turn into slushy spring nuisances… but they didn’t!

All day yesterday I asked myself: “why didn’t I just close at 5:00 and save everyone a lot of trouble?  As I thought about it, the answer was clear…as easy as it might be to just close school and hit “snooz” on the iPhone… I just don’t want to close school.  If at all possible, I want BH-BL to be open.

Why?  I know that kids everywhere have spoons under their pillows. I know how great a snow day feels.  I’m sure even a few high school students (and teachers?) wore their pajamas inside-out.  But we really don’t want it to happen! We don’t want to close school.  Not because a snow day isn’t enjoyable- of course it is. Not because we don’t technically have the snow days to use… we do.  We are so reluctant to close school because of the incredible things that happen when our buildings are open. We have so few days! So few days and so much happening… Every closing brings a list of lost opportunities, altered lesson plans, cancelled activities, and countless other great things… that just don’t happen.

I could list a hundred examples of the types of things I don’t want to disrupt with a snow day…. Our recent middle school and high school musicals are perfect illustrations. Last Friday, the snow day almost disrupted the Friday performance of  The Music Man, Junior. This outstanding troupe of actors and actresses put on a first rate production that exceeded anything I have ever seen from a middle school cast. Fortunately the March sun warmed up the roads and the kids played to a full house on Friday night.

With experiences like that in the middle school, it is no wonder that the level of talent we have at the high school is so strong and so deep.  I had the privilege of attending Curtains at the High School on Saturday evening. I had never seen this particular musical before. It was such a clever and complex production. The show actually began with the finale of a western-themed musical (within the musical) called “Robbin’ Hood!”  It was odd to watch a musical begin with a finale and odder yet to see the female star of the fictitious “show within a show” die on the stage…Murdered!  

TheBH-BL Cast of Curtains
The next scene revealed where the plot was headed. The director(Sam Andrew), producer(Kelsey Ward), song writing team (Kent Benwell & Gabby Rao) and financier of the show(Kris Van Nostrand) were pouring over the dismal critical reviews, lamenting the fact that “Robbin’ Hood” seemed to be a flop.  Enter Detective Frank Cioffi (Colin Foster) who announced that he was sequestering the entire cast in the theater and investigating a murder.  A killer was among them! 

In an extremely amusing twist, the detective harbored a lifelong desire to become a professional actor and he seemed as intent on fixing the failing musical as he was on solving the crime.  Of course, several more characters are murdered and several “scenes” are re-written before the detective identifies the killer, realizes his dreams,  and (spoiler alert) gets the girl (Marion Kinosian)!

The cast had the audience (which, by the way, included a very large percentage of high school students) laughing out loud throughout the performance. Each of the main characters pulled off their roles with such skill! Foster’s Boston accent and wide-eyed awe of the professional acting company was completely believable and drew us into the story.  Andrew’s British wit, Ward’s hard-nosed determination, Van Nostrand’s reckless resignation, Kinosian’s innocence and gullibility,  and Benwell and Rao’s emotional pain were played and sung out with passion and perfection. 

The depth of the BH-BL acting talent was further evidenced by the supporting performances of Vince Fulgari, Nicole Schumacher, Jesse Holland, Karl Salvatore, Nik Lombardi, Matt Rigby, Sam Lynch, and Alana Picozzi. The musical featured an ensemble of at least 25 other students as well as a stage crew of 16 that pulled off a series of amazing sets and special effects. Of course they could change the set, talk with the orchestra pit, and boss around the spotlight operator right in the middle of the scenes,  since the whole story took place on a stage!

All in all, Curtains was a complex, daring, and extremely entertaining choice for this year’s musical. The cast and crew, as well as Director Eric Shovah, Vocal Director Jean Foster, Technical Director Chris Lombardi, Orchestra Director Brian Tetlak, Producer Carol Hobday, and Advisors Stephanie Andrejcak and Mialisa Lindholm Herron should be extremely proud.

By the way… I like to think I had a tiny little role in the success of Curtains. The day after the “Storm of the Century”… yes… the first snow day… Director of Fine Arts, Mike Danis, asked me if I would open the High School Building to allow the professional orchestra to come in and practice together because time was short and they really needed to work. We figured out the details and made it happen. I am glad we were able to accommodate that. The orchestra- including several of our faculty members- was fantastic.

One more of a thousand reasons I don’t like to close school.