By Laurel Busby
Paul Revere Middle School parent Amy Kate Connolly originally planned to find a new production company to coordinate this year’s after-school play. Instead, she ended up producing the whole thing herself.
“Before I knew it, I was doing everything,” including printing the tickets, designing the playbill, making T-shirts, and setting up a bake sale to help fund the $5,000 microphone rental, Connolly said. She also hired director Lara Ganz of Theatre Palisades Youth and musical director Ross Chitwood of Palisades Methodist Church. In addition, she found a used set and lucked out with the varied parents who volunteered to help.
“It’s been so much fun,” she added, noting that “this is a rebirth of the parents running the after school musical.”
Connolly, a former actress who had produced Theatre Palisades Youth plays, including the recent Madagascar Jr., began her experience in the summer by calling production companies, but each was either too busy or too expensive to run the PEP (Personal Enrichment Program) play, she said. PEP provides 96 hours of instruction time to the kids for $4.68 an hour, although the fee is waived for anyone who can’t afford it.
Palisades High School teacher Nancy Fracchiolla used to coordinate the program before moving to the high school, where she is a drama teacher, and when Connolly chose to handle the production herself, she phoned Fracchiolla. Aside from helpful pointers, Fracchiolla also suggested that some PaliHi teens might be able to help as crew members. The two also arranged for the middle school students to visit a play rehearsal at Pali.
The effort has been a success thus far, Connolly said. With Chitwood, the students “are getting top-notch, Juilliard-level vocal training,”while Ganz, who studied drama in New York and has a psychology degree from UCLA, helps “the children be comfortable enough to not only be themselves, but also to take vocal, physical and emotional risks and learn to love expressing themselves through music, dance and drama.”
The trio chose Hairspray Jr. (book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman) in part due to their concerns about our country’s political climate. The play, which is set in 1962 and based on a true story, focuses on both a segregated television dance show that becomes integrated and a teenage girl, Tracy, who is very heavy, but desperately wants to audition for the show despite her mother’s worries that she’ll be bullied.
“We didn’t want our children to see what we’re seeing about racism as normal,” Connolly said. “We really want our kids to become like Tracy. She’s brave. She’s got a bubbly personality. She doesn’t see that difference.”
The play also has an unusual requirement that Connolly had to honor to get permission to produce the work. If children are cast as characters of a different race, as Paul Revere’s production features, the children’s physical appearance cannot be altered. Instead, audiences are asked to suspend their disbelief and accept the children as whatever race they are supposed to be. “You just buy into it, right from the very beginning,” said Connolly, who moved to Pacific Palisades with her husband David Trotti in 1996.
The cast also ended up being such a strong group of performers that Ganz and Chitwood had trouble selecting the parts. They ended up creating understudies for the main roles, and the understudies will have their own concert, where they will be lead singers on their favorite songs.
The play will be performed in the Paul Revere auditorium on March 17 at 7 p.m., March 18 at 5 p.m. and March 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets: $15-$20. The concert will be March 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets: $5. Order tickets at (310) 464-7192.
The play features Connolly’s daughter Chelsea Trotti, Katharine Steffes, Sara Samii, Mia Ruhman, Kerry Cooper, Annabelle Grandy, Hunter Grogan, Kiara Tate, Acacia Hoffman, Mika McCaffrey, Bella Dixon, Roman Wisener, Nikola Wisener, Sydney Geiger, Carlie Given, Grace Vander Veen, Keila Lennon, Elsa O’Donnell, Nicole Chang, Toby Lehr, Caitlyn Jagga, Makayla Junior, Brielle Bruno, Toby Lehr, Sierra Sugarman, Donya Abhari, Tala Maher, Keemia Motamed, Daniela Contreras, Jonny Oscar- son, and Amalie Malavielle.