GUEST BLOG: The Beech Hill School’s First Ever Musical Is Underway

Today's blog is written by Michael Arruda, and he shares his experiences and thoughts about leading Drama at BHS.

The first production ever at BHS - SUPERHEROES

The first production ever at BHS - SUPERHEROES

It has been my pleasure since last year's spring trimester to lead The Beech Hill School Drama Elective.

We started humbly during last year's spring semester with nine students, and we performed the humorous parody SUPERHEROES, which told the story of what our favorite superheroes did when they were not fighting crime.

We built on the success of this production with the comedy CHECK PLEASE, which saw our elective grow to 13 students.  CHECK PLEASE was a light comedy that followed two characters on a series of hilarious blind dates.  

For this high-energy snappy production, which took place inside a restaurant, I envisioned the work of Woody Allen, and as such I selected a jazz score to accompany the play.  The November performance was a huge success.

CHECK PLEASE

CHECK PLEASE

We followed CHECK PLEASE with our largest performance yet, as our elective had grown to 18 students.  For our winter trimester production, we performed 10 WAYS TO SURVIVE THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, a spoof of all things zombies.  Once more, the students worked exceedingly hard to pull off this production, and one of the highlights was a dance number at the end featuring Michael Jackson's "Thriller."  This dance number was suggested by a seventh grader and choreographed by an eighth grader, examples of my favorite part about running this elective:  putting students in positions where they can soar, and then empowering them to do just that.  The dance number was impressive, and it was completely student inspired and arranged.

Surviving the ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

Surviving the ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

For our spring elective, we are boldly going where no Beech Hill Drama Elective has gone before:  a musical.  This spring, on Wednesday June 7, 2017, the Beech Hill School Drama Elective will be performing THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN STARBLASTER, by Daniel Tenney, a spoof of space movies and TV shows, especially STAR TREK and STAR WARS.

Once again, a large group of students signed up to participate in this elective.  Seventeen students, roughly half of our small school, are taking part in the elective this spring. In addition, two faculty members will be helping me with this production.  Paul Keiner will be using his Choral Director skills to assist the students with their singing.  Melissa Horn will be using her tech theater skills to work with students to build sets and design costumes.  And, once again, our 8th Grade dance student extraordinaire has the green light to do as much of the choreography as she wants.

As for myself, I continue to do--- what?  Just what is it that I do as the Drama Elective director?  Well, I'm glad you asked.

Here’s a brief overview of my background and philosophy as the Drama Elective director:

While I had directed middle school plays in the past, and while I have taken acting classes and acted on stage, what I bring most to this elective is a combination of my film background and my teaching philosophies.

In addition to being an English major, I was also a film major way back in the day and earned Bachelor's Degrees in both English and Film from Boston University in 1986.  So, I try to give our plays a cinematic touch.

But what is most important to me in this elective is giving students ownership of the production.  I do my best to empower them to perform to the best of their abilities.

For starters, I throw lots of ideas at them.  Some work. Others don't.  The ones that work we grow.  The ones that don't we forget.  They throw ideas at me, as well, and I do my best to give most of them the green light.

I believe in keeping things stress free.  Stress is never good and should not be confused with adrenaline and positive energy.

I remove stress by focusing on only what we can do.  We don't try to do things we cannot handle.  If we handle it during rehearsal, it's in the show.  If we don't, we move on and forget about it.  I don't put things out there and demand they are achieved.  I let the students achieve and then put their achievements out there.

Everyone has a job to do, and if each student is doing his or her job, everything will be fine.  The show is not on any one person's shoulders.  Everyone does his/her part.  The show stands on everyone's shoulders.

I encourage students not to worry about forgetting lines.  Instead, I encourage them to become the character, act out the scene.  Doing what the character would do in the scene is more important than knowing every single line.

Rehearsal for CAPTAIN STARBLASTER

Rehearsal for CAPTAIN STARBLASTER

I tell the students to have fun, not just for the sake of having fun, but if they are engaged and playful and having a good time, it will show in their performances.  The production will be better for it.

Lastly it's all about preparation.

We prepare, prepare, prepare, so that by the time we come to show time, the students have done this so many times, they are prepared for anything and everything.  As such, I do not stay backstage during the performance.  I am in the audience.  I do not want the students looking for help during the show.  They don't need it, because the performance is nothing they haven't done already in rehearsal.  It's how I instill confidence in them, with the knowledge that what they are doing they own inside and out.  Of course, I am there if things were not to go well, to make adjustments, and they know this.

The result is a rewarding fun experience for the students and an enjoyable production for the audience.  That's my goal.  And so far through three productions that seems to have been the result.

As I have watched the students work hard once again, I am very excited about our spring musical, THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN STARBLASTER.  May is a huge month for this elective, as we have a lot of hard work to do to be fully prepared for June 7.

The Author of the post:

Michael Arruda teaches English at The Beech Hill School and runs the Drama Elective. He’s also an author and movie critic.  Michael is a frequent contributor to the website Cinema Knife Fight, however, to see Michael's movie review's columns, and information about his books and short stories, please visit - THIS IS MY CREATION:  THE BLOG OF MICHAEL ARRUDA.