Big Fish

 

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What’s the big deal about Big Fish?

This fall, Sturgis Theatre Arts Guild of Entertainers (also known as STAGE) produced its third musical, Big Fish.  The musical, written by John August and Andrew Lippa, is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the well-known Tim Burton film released in 2003.  It follows the story of a father and son’s tumultuous relationship and the fantastical stories of the father, Edward Bloom’s, life.

What’s the big deal about the musical?

Sturgis East & West (Center STAGE) Cast of Big Fish with Pit Orchestra in front

A musical involves many people!  First, the fall STAGE show combines students from both campuses, STAGE Left (Sturgis West), and STAGE Right (Sturgis East).   The usual directors, Anna Botsford and Diana Young, are joined by music teachers at both campuses as well as the dance teacher.  For this production, Rosemarie Gentille (West) directed the vocal and choral singing and Natalie Sheeler (East) directed some solo singers as well as the pit orchestra.  All of the choreography came from Michele Colley (East & West).  They even recruited Jo Mary Pontes for the pit orchestra and West parent Jay Stewart for his clowning and circus experience!  Aside from the adults in charge, Big Fish was assistant directed by Tori Mondello (West ‘18) and was comprised of 38 student performers, 25 students on the tech crew and 17 student musicians!  

The musical is a really wonderful event for STAGE, because it brings together so many people and unites both campuses in a collective endeavor.  Many of these students have never been in a musical before, and there is a challenge for each individual member.  Some STAGE participants have acted a lot, but don’t have a lot of singing experience.  Some have never danced before, some are taking on a role that really challenges their skills.  

From left to right: David Girardin as Edward, Nikki Gardner as Sandra, and Caleb Petty as Will

Caleb Petty (West ‘19), who played the role of Will Bloom, Edward’s son, reflects, “I’ve never been in a musical, or really sang. It was such a huge challenge for me breaking out of that comfort zone, and taking on a part that I didn’t feel comfortable with going into it. I had a lot of support from all the cast and crew, as well as the directors. I don’t think I’ve ever as emotionally connected to a part as I did with Will. Even now I still feel like I’m about to take on that role again and embody Will.”

Not only was this musical a big challenge for the actors, but for the crew and the pit orchestra too!  Our last musical, Once on this Island, involved a set that was mostly stationary and abstract; painted platforms that served as pedestals, beds, walls, and other objects that remained the same throughout the 90 minute performance.  Most characters required one costume, and the makeup design for most was a “natural” look.  Big Fish involved two acts, took place in several different locations, and required 2-3 costumes for each of the 38 actors.  

Ashton Townsfolk with Karl the Giant Nick (Bucchianeri)

In addition, Nick Bucchianeri (East 18), who played Karl the Giant, wore stilts and needed to be costumed accordingly.  And Spencer Lawrence (West ‘18), as Amos, had to turn from human to werewolf onstage in a matter of seconds!  On the music side, Natalie Sheeler comments, “We were working with some people who had never sung before.  Some of the vocal parts had some really dense harmonies.  This show has a large pit, more variety of instruments, and more songs than the previous musical.”

Overall, “it was all very new for STAGE, and it really required us to step up our game to accomplish this beast of a show.  It was really a big learning experience, for the students as well as for us as directors” says Young.

But this is what STAGE is all about!  And this is why musicals are an important part of STAGE’s repertoire.  East director Diana Young says, “I don’t believe in providing a student an ‘easy’ experience, or doing work that’s so far within our students’ comfort zone that they aren’t challenged.  We are an educational theatre group!  How can our students learn or grow as performers if we are casting them in the role that’s obviously ‘perfect’ for them?” It is the directors’ jobs to support students by giving them the tools to meet these challenges, stretch their limits, and really open their eyes to a new experience.   “And the hope is, that when you’re done, you’ve gained a lot from the experience!  Whether it’s confidence, or better time management, or skills in working collaboratively with others – not to mention you’ve got about 70 new friends when it’s all over!” Young adds.

Young Edward (played by Nick Stewart), and The Witch (played by Sita McGuire) being carried by her ensemble of witches

From Caleb Petty, “I think one of the biggest things I’ve gotten from this musical was confidence. It’s kind of a thing where the journey from start to finish was a roller coaster of emotions, and the shows were the big day for me to show everyone what I accomplished. What they don’t see is the work and failure that went into performing that part. I really really felt uncomfortable with my role, and even more uncomfortable singing to others than myself. The first couple days I was so reserved I could barely sing to Ms Sheeler alone. Over time she helped me build my confidence and I sang to more and more people and my confidence grew as a result. The amount of courage I was able to obtain from my peers and directors is insurmountable and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. The confidence isn’t just in singing, the show taught me to be confidence everywhere, and I’m so happy I took this part. Besides all that, I think the one thing I got that trumps everything is the friendships I formed. This musical by far was the hardest for me, but by far was the greatest thing I ever did. I have met people and grew close to people I never would have otherwise and those friendships will stay with me.”

Another part of the STAGE philosophy is that students have a lot of involvement in the decision making that happens.  Actors make a lot of their own character choices, and students design costume, set, lights, etc.  Ms. Young says, “We as directors are really there to give them the guidance and overarching vision, and we like to let them take it from there.”

See some of the Sturgis students discuss their choices as well as their STAGE experience on Arts Barnstable’s interview with Diana Young and some STAGE students here: 

Jenn Kirk, Principal of Sturgis West, presents young Edward with a key to the city.

There were also some fun new additions to this musical, like faculty cameo appearances!  Patrick O’Kane (Principal, East), Jenn Kirk (Principal, West), Anna Botsford (Theatre, West), and Marca Daley (TOK, East) all got their time in the spotlight as Mayor of Ashton, Mississippi!  Anna Botsford speaks from the perspective as STAGE director on this new endeavor, “Faculty cameo appearances were something we wished to include in order to involve more members of the school community within the production.  We felt it was a great way for administration and teachers outside of the arts to get a feel for what goes into preparing for and performing a STAGE production.  It also helps build more of a community within STAGE and Sturgis itself.”

Big Fish was different from many past productions, but it also continues to provide a place of growth, comfort and friendship for Sturgis students.  Everyone is working so closely with one another, and for so many hours of each day and for such a continued amount of rehearsal time, a close bond of support and encouragement develops among everyone involved.  There’s something about putting on a show together, with your peers, that really marks the experience and makes it memorable for those involved.  Caleb Petty reflects on what STAGE means to him by saying “[it is] the greatest thing that someone can do in their high school experience, at least it was for me. I can’t imagine a life without knowing my closest of friends. I’m incredibly grateful for STAGE because of that.”

Upcoming Winter One-Acts

Come see Caleb and the rest of the STAGE gang for their Winter One-Act performances!  For these shows, each campus performs their own show, in preparation for the Massachusetts Educational Theatre Guild (METG) Festival in March.  This year, Sturgis East and West will perform at Duxbury High School along with 6 other high schools.  But you can see both shows here in Hyannis!  Info below:

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