Didn’t you love La Follette’s theater productions such as Arsenic and Old Lace or Seussical the Musical? Well this year, La Follette’s Drama Department is collaborating with the Forward Theater Company. They’ll work together to produce both the fall play, Girls in the Boat, and the spring musical, 13. Before talk of the collaboration even began, Forward Theater’s Artistic Director Jennifer Gray got a taste of what our drama department was capable of when she attended one of the rehearsals of Seussical the Musical. “The afternoon that I spent with those young people was incredibly inspiring, and their obvious lack of resources was incredibly dispiriting,” said Gray in her video release statement announcing Forward Theater’s new partnership with La Follette High School. “As I left the La Follette auditorium that afternoon, I knew we found our next partner,” Gray added. With the help of the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, and current Drama Department Director, Joshua Brown, La Follette successfully gained its second partner through the Adopt-A-School program.
The collaboration truly kicked off on September 9th during the tech crew interest meeting, where students of La Follette High School were invited to learn more about this year’s fall play and the inner technical and compositional aspects of it. They introduced the new teaching artists who would be working alongside Director Josh Brown. The newest additions to the team include but are not limited to: Technical Director Kelly Clobes, Lighting Director Mark Penisten, Lighting Operations Assistant Tom Littrell, Stage Manager and Backstage Operations Manager Jo Chalhoub, and Director of Development Julia Nicholas. Also included, but separate from Forward Theater, is the introduction of the new assistant director, and La Follette High School alumnus of 2019, Jillian Ley.
Each person that met in the auditorium that afternoon took turns explaining who they are, and what their intentions are for crew this year. “This is a great opportunity for all of us to learn from each other and you guys to ask the questions that you want so that you feel like if you want to make a professional career out of it someday, or if you just want to get through this one show, or however you’re looking at it, you’re getting the support you need,” Chalhoub explained. “...There’s no bad ideas, there’s no bad questions, right? ...Just ask the questions,” added Clobes. Other topics discussed during the meeting included a new budget for updated tools and supplies, the tasks that would be worked on in order to affect future generations of plays and musicals, and a snapshot of the play as well as a basic image of what the set would look like.
Following the tech crew interest meeting, an audition workshop took place on September 10th in the Vander-Meulen Auditorium, where again, La Follette Students were invited to join in learning more about Girls in the Boat and its origins. This time students also participated in multiple acting exercises led by another Forward Theater teaching artist and actor, Whitney Derendinger.
Since the meetings, the drama department here at La Follette High School and the many Forward Theater teaching artists have been working in unison. They’re focusing on creating a more open and accepting environment that can communicate with each other to construct an immersive and historical fall play. “Personally, I’m so excited to be partnered with Forward just because in my three years of crew, we’ve never had anything like this.” Jesse Kleiss-Garcia (12) said. Regarding future plans for the collaboration, Josh Brown has disclosed that Forward Theater will be reassessing the drama department following the spring musical to see if further assistance would be necessary.