November 16, 2001
Beginning of the Road
By Dane Sorensen
In an excellent exhibition of Freedom of Expression, that can only happen in a free society, the Ely public was given several memorable performances of the "Pajama Game". Yes, we take for granted that such works of art can exist. A play is often more than the sum of its parts. In the case of the Pajama Game it is half union propaganda and half love story. Ely being a union town would probably disagree that the play had any propaganda, but when top management is shown as a combination of Scrooge and Adolph Hitler and everyone else is just wanting "fairness" it is plain to see that this is a one sided affair. Not that unions are unnecessary, but in the long history of capitalism and unionism there have been crimes against human dignity committed by both sides.
Be that as it may, a play with this much opinion would not be allowed in old Kabul, if only because the women actresses were not buried under seven layers of clothing. One wonders what the Taliban women wear when they go to bed? Perhaps they strip down to only 6 layers of clothing.
It was nice to see all of Ely coming out to the play. On opening night there was practically a full house. The fifty some students who have worked for weeks on their singing, dancing and mannerisms had invested a lot of time and effort. They made it look easy. Yet the fact is the learned skills necessary to pull off a musical are as complex as any subject that is offered in their school studies. In fact, it took the skill of many teachers to instruct these motivated kids. Director James Lah leads the pack with his dynamic and sometimes loud directing. With years of experience on the stage he knows what it takes to communicate ideas and emotions.
For the quality of grace, our Ely thespians have Mrs. Denise Drecshler to thank. For it is Mrs. Drecshler who creates the choreography and instructs the cast in the art of movement. This can be a challenge since some kids barely know their left foot from their right. Staging how an actor or actress moves is very important and the task of making a stage seem alive can be a daunting task. Washington Auditorium is a huge stage and it is easy to get lost. Mrs. Drecshler makes the stage come alive.
Of course a musical would not be very musical were it not for the music. For that you have Mrs. Marcia Homer who teaches choir and music at our school. I commend her efforts in the last several years in to include student musicians in the pit. The students work with other adult musicians and learn the art of playing for the actors. Unlike a band concert where the music is set, a play remains very fluid and constantly changes. Parts are dropped, rewritten and keys adjusted to the singing ability of the singers. Also, the pit has to constantly keep one ear open for the tempo of the singer. If the singer gets excited and sings too fast they pit must speed up to match their speed. If a singer decides to rewrite the song the pit must try to guess where the singer is in the song and jump to it.
There are others in our community that also should share in the praise of accomplishment. Brian Kess has been interested in theater for much of his young life. In the early years, he was encouraged by Shelia Clouse by her work in children's theater. I know there are probably dozens like him who cut their teeth on Mrs. Clouse's low budget productions. Costumes and sets also make a play more real and the work of Donna Kari and Peter Kess bring our high school productions real theater values.
Another gifted teacher of theater is Joan Larson. Out of the Baptist Church she has taught voice. The number of students on our stage that take voice from Joan (pronounced Jo-An) is too numerous to mention, but I will say that both Brian Kess and Brea Schurke who thrilled the audiences with their singing are her pupils.
Of course, we can't forget the example of previous students who have graced the stage while our present day casts were still in grade school. Our tradition of supporting music, dance and drama as an important element of education, is what gives Ely so much that is memorable. It is a shame that so few administrators in this district bother to see these productions. Years from now this now cast will still remember the thrill they had performing for their community. It will serve them well in their pursuits of a full life. The ability of leadership is often a matter of looking the part. Vision cannot be imparted to the rank and file without the leader showing confidence even in times of difficulties.
I hope this young cast will continue to stay involved in some of the performing arts during their adulthood. For most of the arts, it can be a life long hobby. Long after one can't tackle a running back, one can still play an instrument. Long after you loose that youthful frame you can still act on a stage. Some of the best parts are those played by the old and the plain. How scary would the Wicked Witch of the East be without being ugly? How would it look to have a youthful and handsome Scrooge? Truly great actors and actresses get better with age. This is true in both Hollywood and community theater.
As Shakespeare said, "All the world is a stage" and we are here to play our part or parts. The key to an interesting life is to confront yourself with new ideas and new ways of expressing them. Art is an important medium to change the world. Films such as "To Sir With Love" teach tolerance and hope. Plays such as "Hamlet" teach the secrets of the soul. Music such as the score in the "Music Man" shows us that love can make dreams come true. Take away a communities art and you have a Taliban hell.
Life is more than science, math and jobs. We need these things, but we need the arts to make them meaningful. So I really do appreciate the people both in front and behind the scenes who train our next generation of magic makers. They do not get the credit, nor the praise they deserve.