Young and full of promise5/20/2015
Most shows at the Civic Center require a ton of setup — “The Lion King” tours with an endless caravan of trucks — but none have put 30 high schools onstage. Not until now, anyway, in year three of the Iowa High School Musical Theater Awards. For 2014-15, the awards program expanded to include more than a dozen additional schools. No less than 18, from Bondurant to Pella to Williamsburg, will be recognized for an “Outstanding Scene.”
But Karoline Myers, one of three directors for the June 1 “Showcase,” says the production will stay under control.
“We’ve learned how to work with medleys and snippets,” she says.
Only the opening and closing numbers, she said, are presented in full. But for those, too, the production is without a set or costumes.
The howcase seeks primarily to get students together, in as many different combinations as possible. Both the first song and the last, for instance, put all the participants onstage at once. In this, Myers and the rest of the Des Moines Performing Arts Education program — the organization behind the awards— emphasize what they consider most important about high-school productions.
“It’s a unique space of collaboration,” Meyers explains. “The musical, it’s never just about stars. Everyone has to pitch in.”
During the showcase, too, she adds: “The groups who get their own collaboration going, they’re the ones who really shine.”
In order to achieve this, Performing Arts also brings in a few professionals. Local adult musicians handle the soundtrack (though Myers hopes to include students over time), and a choreographer comes from New York to help with the more complex numbers. These experienced hands help make the show a “wonderful educational experience,” as Myers puts it. More than that, they provide special preparation for two of the performers.
“Outstanding Scene” is just one example among the awards already in the program. These include six “Outstanding Musicals” (among them wildly different shows like “Urinetown” and “Mary Poppins”) and dozens of individual players, from the leads to the dancers. All were judged during the year by visiting teachers and theater people. They used a rubric, assigned grades and the paperwork was later shared with the schools. No one, however, knows which boy and girl were rated Iowa’s greatest “Triple Threat” — the best at singing, dancing and acting.
For those two, announced at the show, the prize is a trip to New York for the National Awards. There, they’ll represent Iowa, working with winners from 30 other centers for high school performance, as well as Broadway professionals.
It’s a terrific opportunity, and Myers shares that excitement. Nonetheless, she insists that the Awards Program isn’t just for kids seeking a career; it’s first and foremost about the education.
“The Showcase isn’t a competition; it’s a celebration,” she concludes. “The level of energy is like nothing you’ll find anywhere.”
Overheard in the Lobby: Deadline for the Iowa Playwrights Workshop at Tallgrass Theater is June 1. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.