Throughout this spring, parts of the Milton Academy campus have transformed into the fictional East High School as performing arts faculty and students filmed scenes for the spring show, High School Musical Jr.
Opening virtually on Thursday, May 20, the show chronicles the interpersonal comedy and drama behind the scenes of, well, a high school musical. The “junior” show is adapted from the 2006 Disney Channel movie of the same name, which launched the careers of actors Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Tisdale, among others.
“Shooting this musical like a movie has been such a fun and interesting experience,” said Ingrid Krishnan ’22, who plays Gabriella, a shy transfer student who sparks a connection with star basketball player Troy, played by Ben Simpson ’21. “Before this, I did not have any experience doing film acting, so it has been exciting to work with the cameras.”
Preparing for the show has been a window into filmmaking, with actors needing to be 100 percent ready for their scenes on the day of shooting, particularly as many scenes have been filmed out of order based on the availability of locations. Some students, who are participating remotely, are being creatively edited into the show, said faculty member Peter Parisi, who is co-directing the show with Eleza Kort. “We committed to making this as equitable an experience as possible for students, and we even have one cast member who’s overseas.”
In order to remain consistent with COVID-19 health and safety standards, student actors are wearing masks in the show. Shooting the show on film, however, has also allowed the actors to focus on up-close details and show emotions that might not be detectable for a live audience during a stage performance.
“Acting with masks on has certainly been challenging,” Krishnan said. “Since basically only our eyes are visible to the camera, we have to work to convey meaning. I feel that this challenge has lessened as we’ve gone on in the production.”
John Kulow ’22, who plays Ryan in the show, was excited when he learned Milton was taking on High School Musical because he grew up watching the movie and his middle school had previously performed it. Krishnan and Kulow said they hope the Disney movie’s popularity and nostalgia will encourage students to watch the show.
“I’ve always thought of it as such an upbeat show, which was exactly the type of show that I wanted to be involved in after a year of COVID lockdowns,” Kulow said. “We’re performing it as a movie. At first, I was a bit pessimistic about that plan, but the production quality from the lighting to the costumes to the choreo has been so incredible.”
Most of the teachers in the Performing Arts Department have been involved with High School Musical. In addition to Parisi and Kort directing, department chair Kelli Edwards choreographed the show, and teachers Shane Fuller, Dar Anastas, and Evan DelGaudio have worked as the film crew. Fuller is editing the project, and an external music director is mixing the actors’ vocal tracks, which students recorded on their own.
“This is the first time, at least in my memory, that almost the whole department has been working on the same production,” Parisi said. “It’s been really nice for the adults to have this collaborative moment.”
High School Musical has an alumni connection as well. Zach Dodes ’94 reached out when he learned Milton was performing the show, because he is currently working as a producer on the Disney+ spinoff, High School Musical: The Musical – The Series. Parisi said he is working on a way to connect Dodes with the student performers.
Dates and times for streaming performances are:
Thursday, May 20 at 8 p.m.
Friday, May 21 at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 22 at 8 a.m., 2 p.m., and 8 p.m.
Reserve your free tickets at www.milton.edu/play.
Watch the trailer
In preparation for the Gospel Choir’s annual spring concert, music director Briana Washington and choir director Lori Dow guided student musicians through a new exercise: Composition.
Working over Zoom, the student choir developed a song called “The Light,” which delivers an inspirational and urgent message calling for hope in difficult times.
“Since we’re all dealing with this new setting of the pandemic, I thought, let’s do something original, something that shows our character,” said Washington. “Let’s write a song and see where it goes, no pressure. Once we got into the writing process with everyone in the virtual classroom, we thought of the message we wanted to send, which was uplifting and positive in the face of everything going on in the world.”
Once some students overcame a little initial shyness about songwriting for the first time, the process caught fire, Washington said. “There was a lot of energy, everyone was bouncing ideas off each other.” While they worked out the type of song they wanted to write, Katheryn Prather ’22 began strumming chords on her guitar that would eventually become the basis for the mid-tempo song. Students dropped lyrical ideas into the Zoom chat, and Washington put it all together and recorded a demo track.
“The Light” will premiere at the Gospel Choir’s Wednesday, May 19 concert. Washington, Dow, and the students wrote hopeful lyrics inspired in part by poet Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” which she performed for President Joseph Biden’s inauguration in January. Gorman’s poem concludes, “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
“Her message about light was so hopeful and inspiring,” Dow said. “It took us just one rehearsal to conceptualize the song. It was organic, and what I loved about it was that even though there was some hesitancy at first, once it started to come together, everyone was giving their ideas and trying different things, so it worked out very well.”
Those who have heard it have given the song a very positive reception, Dow said. Music plays an important role in communities, and gospel music in particular has had a long history of connecting performers and audiences. “The Light” was written to provide hope during a challenging time.
“Music can help us express deeper emotions than we’re able to say with just words sometimes,” Washington said. “It can be a comfort, or a place of hope. With this song, we said, ‘Let’s focus on where we want to be.’ There has been so much negativity expressed over the state of the world—let’s do something that feels optimistic about the future.”
Musicians everywhere, faced with the cancelation of live shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have stepped up to share their gifts in other ways, including virtual concerts delivered from living rooms and backyards, Dow said. Gospel Choir members felt it was important to find a way to share music with one another and the School community during this challenging time.
The Gospel Choir’s May 19 concert will begin at 7 p.m. ET and will feature recordings of songs and readings of scripture. Parent and singer Raynya Simmons P ’21, ’24, ’26, the Milton Chamber Orchestra, and others will also make appearances. Additional details will be shared via email.
Listen to a snippet of “The Light”
As the school year winds down, Milton speech and debate students are busier than ever preparing for the upcoming national tournaments at the end of May and mid-June. The National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) Grand National Tournament will occur virtually over Memorial Day weekend with 18 Milton participants. The National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) National Tournament will take place in mid-June, this year hosting 11 Milton students in the week-long competition.
Milton is coming off an impressive showing at the Massachusetts Speech and Debate League (MSDL) State Tournament where the team captured Second Place Sweepstakes overall, while earning several second-place honors in individual speaking categories. Student debaters also earned first place speaker awards in the junior varsity and varsity divisions of public forum debate. Additionally, in a separate competition, Can Yildirim ’23 earned first place in the Northeast Qualifying Great Communicator Series, winning every round of competition (8-0) and securing the right to represent Milton Academy this coming summer in its national tournament.
The NSDA rewards forensic competitors with an Academic All-American Award once a student has completed five semesters of competition and reached a baseline of 750 points (Superior Distinction). Milton has 13 students who have earned eligibility for this award, one that is bestowed to only the top two percent of NSDA member students.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected many extracurricular activities, speech and debate tournaments have continued to occur via a number of virtual platforms; in fact, Milton speech and debate students have had access to many more tournaments this past year (42 tournaments) through such synchronous, virtual competitions.
The objects, photos, people, and places we choose to hold dear can help us keep memories alive and anchor us in our identities, students in Project Story: Narrative Journalism and Performance demonstrated last week.
Four students, Jack Burton ’22, Tanisha Dunac ’21, Amelia Solomon ’23, and Nate Stewart ’21, narrated the transcriptions of interviews they conducted with peers and adults at Milton. They compiled the narrations into a 30-minute original performance called Keepsakes, which was shared via video.
Keepsakes are the “things we keep because of the memories they hold within them, because we want to hold onto the parts of other people or times in our lives that we attach to objects,” Solomon said.
Faculty and students shared stories about objects with significant emotional meaning for them, including family heirlooms, photos of ancestors, stuffed toys, artwork, and jewelry. Some were “transitional objects,” things that comforted their holders during major moments in their lives, while others were unique things that called back memories of travel, childhood, and loved ones.
Faculty members Peter Parisi and Hannah Pulit teach the narrative journalism course. The performance video was designed by faculty member Evan DelGaudio.
Following the narration, the performers shared their own keepsakes: Burton has saved the ballots from his Middle School speech tournaments, Solomon the stuffed penguin she snuggled as a baby, and Stewart shared the varsity letterman’s jacket from the outstanding 2019 Milton football season. Stewart earned the jacket as a junior, and said it reminds him of an important year with his “brothers” on the team; he had looked forward to wearing it on game days as a senior, but the football season was canceled due to COVID-19. Still, the jacket is a keepsake that he will hold onto forever, Stewart said.
Dunac’s keepsakes are her acceptance letters to Milton and Swarthmore College. The day she learned she got into Milton, her mom surprised her with her acceptance letter, laminated and in a blue and orange folder. It reminds her how much she’s grown and become more confident since her Class IV year. “I love this place,” she said. “It is my keepsake.”