In March, Bellingham High School opens the Disney classic “The Little Mermaid” in their Performing Arts Center. It runs March 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. and March 2 and 9 at 2 p.m. for Saturday matinees. (Tickets can be purchased at the door.) The production brings together performing talents in singing, dancing and orchestration and overlays those with behind-the-scene skills in costuming, lighting, scene design, sound effects and stage management.
The show was chosen earlier this school year by drama teacher and director Kelsey Glasgow, music teacher and conductor Nick Strobel, and technical theatre teacher and designer Keefe Healy. They landed on “The Little Mermaid” because it was a production that could effectively highlight the impressive and varied talents of their students. The plan from the start was to give the reins to the student thespians who would take the lead on most aspects of the show with oversight by the teachers. In theatre, as in all arts and professions, the learning is in the doing. With hands-on problems to solve, and with the resources and the space to solve them, the students found an opportunity to grow and flourish, developing themselves into leaders.
Some of the notable student leaders behind the production include senior Nathan McCarthy as assistant director, senior Halle Pernett as stage manager, senior Kira Munson as costume designer, and sophomores Alvin Ton as sound designer and Meixing Rain as choreographer, to name only a few. Onstage, students have also stretched into their roles, taking steps to sharpen their skills and try new things. (See the student voices below for firsthand accounts of how the show has taught them skills both large and small.)
The live orchestra adds a dynamic, warm layer to the production with the pit orchestra learning more than fifty songs for the show. Conductor Nick Strobel says that the student musicians have risen to the occasion and are tackling the score. “No editing is done to the parts the musicians play,” he says. “It is this the same music that a professional orchestra would use for a professional production.”
Director Kelsey Glasgow took time to answer some questions about the show and teaching and directing theatre.
Share highlights of where there is leadership from the students in The Little Mermaid
Glasgow: The BHS Theatre program is highly student-centered and they have their hands in nearly everything we do. There is a student stage manager that runs the rehearsals and manages the entire show with director/producer consultation. We also have students that have designed and built all of our costumes, students that design and operate our lighting, sound, and set, and a student (sophomore this year) that has choreographed the entire show. Our pit orchestra also consists of students that have helped to develop and execute the music. In fact, there is a student that built their own keytar that will be played for the show. Even the actors, get themselves warmed up as a group and when they have downtime, take the initiative to run some of their scenes without prompting from any of the adult directors. Overall, we want the students to feel as though they own their work. It is their program and their show so it should feel personal to them. It is all about showcasing their work and their talent. We can guide them to this point, but it really should feel and be about what they’ve accomplished as a team.
How does working on a school production like this underscore our district’s work on equity, diversity and inclusion. In what areas of this production, and in theatre work in general, is it demonstrated?
Glasgow: Theatre as an art is a great unifier; there are so many facets from acting, to sound design, to makeup design, to stage management, that people from all walks of life, skill levels, and backgrounds can come together to make a collaborative piece of art. A musical truly encompasses all of this because there are literally many moving parts. We have musicians coming together with theatre technicians and actors, all here for one goal: to create something spectacular. At the high school level, we have students that come together that may not have the opportunity to interact during a normal school day or even outside of school, but they all become this close-knit family through the production process. As long as a student has the drive to be part of our team, where they come from, their social circle, academic skill level, etc. are not the main focus; it’s the art that we create together that matters most.
What magic will families see on the stage if they attend?
Glasgow: Theatre itself is pure magic. Our theatre program technician Keefe Healy always says that if people walk away feeling as though the show happened “as if by magic” then we’ve done our job right as thespians. Theatre isn’t just seeing a show, it’s an experience, so we try to make sure that everything on the stage is creative, high-quality and purposeful. I think the real magic families will see is that this spectacularly challenging production was executed by students. They’ve put their hearts and souls into this show and it is evident in the entire performance.
Student Voices from The Little Mermaid
Halle Pernett, senior, stage manager: My role for the show encompasses a vast range of tasks that provide practical and organizational support to the director, cast, and stage crew. My key duties have been to work in coordination with our director to record decisions made about the show, notes for actors and crew members, and scheduling, as well as effectively communicate these details and changes to all production members. It is also my responsibility to form, coordinate, and oversee the stage crew and production design team. However, my favorite part of being a stage manager is setting up and calling a show, which entails coordinating scene changes, writing and giving lighting and sound cues, and ensuring that every aspect of the production runs as smoothly as possible. I’m so grateful to work with and lead an amazing team of students who are just as passionate about the show as I am.
This isn’t my first time stage managing at BHS, yet I feel as though I have had to stretch myself more than I excepted to. It isn’t easy being in charge and having others rely on me to communicate important information. Even when I get frustrated that something isn’t going as smoothly as I know it can, I have to acknowledge that nothing is perfect. Having such an involved role in the production has required me to work harder and understand that small, day-to-day failures are something I can learn from and use to develop my abilities and help others around me to do the same.
This production has had unexpected events (seven snow days!), road bumps, and some un-ideal circumstances, but these have not and will not stop determined kids from doing what they love—and doing it well. Our cast and crew members have been working extremely hard to put on an amazing show. Their dedication to helping each other succeed is astonishing. I’ve found a family within the technical theatre department at Bellingham. There is nothing better than getting to design and create amazing things with people who care about each other and the art.
Nathaniel McCarthy, senior, assistant director: As assistant director, I work to make the production move more smoothly as a whole, by blocking scenes, taking notes on actors improvement, and helping to run rehearsals. I had never been part of a production team for a full-scale show before, so the entire experience was something new to me, I definitely stretched myself and my skills in this production. I have developed a greater appreciation for everything the production team does. As an actor in past shows, I never realized how much work they actually put in for the shows to succeed. I first started doing theatre because I wanted to make a living out of it, but as I continued to do it, I realized that I just love doing it for the sake of bringing joy to others.
Kira Munson senior, costume designer: I design and execute all the costumes for the show. This included coming up with ideas and sketches of the costumes and finding out how to make them. I also help execute all costume changes that occur during the show. This was the biggest undertaking I have undertaken for a show. With such a large cast and the necessity to make most of the costumes from scratch, I had to commit to more responsibility and time than I ever have. Making all the mermaid costumes and a fair amount of the underwater costumes has been a challenge, but incredibly gratifying. The ability to design and create has been unlike any other experience. I have felt enormous satisfaction in being able to realize my own ideas. It is so much more empowering than I realized it would be. In addition, I cannot speak enough about how important the help I have received has been. I have loved working with this cast and crew because of the camaraderie that has developed. Their eagerness to help make their costume pieces and receive them makes the work worth it. I love the feeling of being a community and working together to accomplish a common goal. It gives me hope for what my peers can accomplish as a team.
Khanh-Quang Ton (Alvin Ton), sophomore, sound designer: For the most part, when it comes to musicals, sound designing is about handling the many microphones. During the show, I will be setting up mics that are scattered all around the stage, and also the mics that are hooked up to the lead and supporting actors. Handling the mics, also means finding a mix between all the voices and blending in the voices to make the atmosphere more natural. I have pushed my understanding far more than before. I have also learned to be patient with the tools and the people that I’m working with. I figured that if I’m more patient, then we get things done a lot quicker. Of course, we need all the time we can get, but I try not to rush and stress out anyone or anything more than they already are.
I mainly do theatre because of the friends that I meet in the process. Most people don’t know, but theatre is such a diverse community, despite often being hidden from the public. The bonds that are created while in theatre cannot be replicated anywhere else. Personally I was inspired by my sisters to join theatre and it almost felt like it was my legacy in a way to join and figure out why they enjoyed theatre so much. I first joined to see what it was all about, and it soon became a part of my everyday life. Doing theatre also gave me a possible job path in the technical theatre world, or even in just audio engineering.
Luna Chambliss, senior, actress playing Ursula: I have never had the chance to play an evil character before so I have really had to work on letting myself act crazy and mean. Audrey Fry and I are good friends so in the scenes where I have to yell at her and push her around it has been difficult to look at her as Ariel and not as my friend. At the beginning we had a hard time not laughing when I had to be mean to her but we’ve worked on that. Also I am usually a soprano in choir but for this role I’ve had to sing very low which has been a challenge. It’s been fun singing as an alto though!
No matter how much rehearsal time we’ve lost with snow days, everyone in the cast has been so positive and been working so hard to make up for lost time. I was nervous at the beginning seeing how much time we missed but the work ethic of all the actors and technicians in the show have really impressed me and I am so excited to open!
I do theater because I love performing and being under the stage lights. It is such a thrill going out onto the stage in a costume and completely immersing yourself in a different world. The characters you play become a part of you and you never forget parts of them.
Audrey Fry, junior, actress playing Ariel: I have stretched myself in this production by being willing to put myself out there and be more extroverted, because typically I am a shy person. I’ve really had to just let go of all my worries about what people would think of me or my acting/singing in order to do my best. This cast is so kind to each other and so accepting,which makes it easy to have fun and put on a good show! Because of this production, I am reassured of my passion for the arts and musical theatre, in particular. I have learned so much from my peers, my directors, and the tech and costume/hair/makeup crew throughout the production about the art, and I believe all of them have helped me grow as a person. My love for the arts began with singing, and then that passion grew into a dream to act professionally. I have been in love with Broadway musicals for years and any chance I get to live a little bit of that I am going to take.
Paige Harvey, senior, makeup design, costumes, and self-proclaimed team mom for all the actors and crew: In this production, I’ve stretched myself with my patience and I have learned that positivity goes a long way! I do theater because I love the community, and I especially love the work in hair and makeup. I would like to attend the beauty program at BTC.
Meixing Rain, sophomore, choreographer: I have only ever been a cast member in plays/musicals, and I’ve done some small pieces of choreography here and there, but never an entire show. It has really helped me understand what it’s like to be in a leadership role, and better comprehend the time and dedication it takes to be in any director’s position. In this production, I have learned that there’s always some way to help out, even if it’s not your role within the production. I think that having snow days take away a week and a half of rehearsals so close to the opening night really put things in perspective for everyone, and caused us all in the cast and crew to bond and work so much harder than we ever have over the course of this show, which was really amazing to experience.
My dad is a musician, and my mom is an incredibly creative and artistic person, so I’ve pretty much been surrounded by the arts my whole life. I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten to be in that environment because it developed my love of theatre and the arts in general.
Logan Foy, sophomore, actor playing Prince Eric: While I have performed countless times singing solos and in the BHS Showstoppers, this is my first experience with musical theatre. I have grown so much as an actor and performer with the help of other actors, crew members and directors. I am so excited to see the smiles in the audience when they see how much hard work we have put into this production.The biggest takeaway for me this production has been perseverance. Missing tons of rehearsal from the snow seemed at first to be catastrophic, but the hardworking and devoted crew and cast has bonded together and become a family in order to make the production as fantastic as it is now.
Max Suwarno, junior, actor playing Sebastian: In this production specifically, I think my biggest takeaway was acting and committing to my character through acting. I’ve played many character-driven roles, but it has been amazing to play a non-human character and reinvent the role of Sebastian. I have been able to put my own special twists on the character and add in references to pop culture through my actions and mannerisms. Learning to convey a story through song was also an important part in what I did in this show. The song If Only especially spoke to me, since I haven’t had the chance to portray a character with so much emotion. Overall, I truly believe that this production and role has challenged and stretched me but also bettered me as an actor and singer. I love getting out of my comfort zone to get into character and do something that I normally wouldn’t do as a person. I love to add something new or try something different every night or every rehearsal to see if it will work with my character.