I have adored the performing arts for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are from watching Broadway shows and New York Cabaret performances, and these musical venues sparked the beginning of my passion for the theater and performing arts. In my elementary school years, my love of performing became more prevalent. Choral concerts, musicals, pageants, dance recitals, or truly any opportunities to perform and be a part of the show were right up my alley. I was ready to work hard and began studying more dance styles at Broadway Dance Center, striving to be like the star-studded actors and actresses I had admired on The Great White Way. While learning everything from lyrical dance to Latin jazz, I realized that my attraction to dance was developing into a lifelong passion for the performing arts.
In sixth grade, I began to participate in the musicals at Hewitt. My very first show was the middle school production of Once Upon a Mattress. I was cast as a member of the ensemble, and to my surprise and delight, the director chose me for a small featured dance role in a number called “The Spanish Panic.” It was such a joyous experience to perform alongside my peers after hours of rehearsing and practicing, and though there was a solemn feeling once the show closed, I felt excited about our next musical production. My next performing opportunities at Hewitt included roles in Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast, James and the Giant Peach, and The Addams Family. During these shows I worked with and learned from several performing arts faculty members, including Ms. Colleen Britt, who directs professional productions in addition to shows at Hewitt, and dance teacher and show choreographer Ms. Linda van Kesteren, who was a professional dancer on Broadway. Both Ms. Britt and Ms. van Kesteren bring their own unique style and personality to their productions and work with the students who participate in Hewitt’s musicals.
In this video, the author talks about her growing passion for the performing arts
My involvement in the performing arts at Hewitt taught me that a single theater production is actually two shows that are running simultaneously and cohesively. These are often referred to as the onstage performance, which the audience sees, and the backstage choreography, which must be carefully carried out and managed so that the actors and actresses on stage look their best. Having been a part of several onstage performances, I was curious to learn more about what went on backstage, so I approached our director, Ms. Britt, to express my interest in becoming a part of the behind-the-scenes action of a Hewitt production. She gave me the opportunity to work in backstage management for two of the upper school plays she directed. I worked as an assistant stage manager on The Children’s Hour during my eighth grade year, and on The Wolves as a ninth grader. Ms. Britt notes, “By working in stage management, students are exposed to the backstage elements of theatrical productions through active, hands-on learning. As they embrace the intense responsibilities of the position, they not only gain important skills, but also earn the respect of the theater professionals who work on Hewitt shows.”
As an assistant stage manager, I had a multitude of tasks to complete during the rehearsal period and run of the show, including curating props and running errands. Staying organized was vital to this role. It was critical that all props remained in their respective places when they were not in use so that members of the cast and crew could locate them easily for a particular scene. Many a time, I had to track down specific costume pieces or a missing shoe. Working behind the scenes, I learned that each task carried importance and that if one seemingly minuscule job was not complete, it had the potential to create a snowball effect and cause serious problems for the people onstage. Staying on our toes is always a key element to any show, and the backstage crew is trained to act quickly to mend a problem if something goes awry.
Theater has always had a piece of my heart, and as soon as I stepped into this new role, I found that backstage work was rewarding and genuinely a lot of fun. It has also taught me a plethora of core skills that apply to several different kinds of work. As an assistant stage manager I learned that the cast and crew must operate as if they are one big entity. People with different areas of expertise, such as lighting, set building, and sound and costume design must exercise the greatest of collaboration skills to provide entertainment for their audiences. Whether the star of the show or the usher handing out playbills, each person must pull their weight in order for everyone to achieve a common goal together. The unforgettable feeling of working within theater never ceases to amaze me. Although it consists of hard work and a lot of juggling, the end result is always more than gratifying.
After spending my middle school years performing and then later working backstage, I found myself looking for a way to use my management and dance skills in our productions. When it was time to start thinking about participating in the 2020 winter musical, I met with Ms. van Kesteren about taking on the role of dance captain for Hewitt’s production of Oliver! We discussed my experience working behind the scenes, the responsibilities of a dance captain, and what the rehearsal schedule would look like. After years of performing in and working on Hewitt productions, I am confident in my abilities and comfortable being a leader, and with guidance from Ms. van Kesteren, I realized that this was a job I was sure I could handle. I worked closely with her for the entirety of the show, first learning the choreography alongside the cast, and then later, while other elements of the show were being created, running through the existing numbers with the ensemble. As dance captain, I supported cast members as they learned parts of the choreography and gave them corrections to help perfect a piece. My work largely benefited the members of the ensemble, whom I met with one on one and in small groups to review the extensive dance numbers. It felt exciting and new to work with students who were not in my regular academic classes and share my expertise with them.
Another one of my responsibilities as dance captain was keeping track of the blocking and movement for principal roles and ensemble members for every number. After the program that we used to create our tracking sheets during past shows became unavailable, I set out to construct a similar system that would provide the same functionality for our production. The system I developed involved creating a Google Slideshow where we could input stage dimensions and set pieces and document each cast member’s blocking and choreography. In fact, the system I created is currently being used to help record choreography and document scene blocking for our upcoming spring productions. Ms. van Kesteren shares, “Fueled by her own passion for dance, Annabella fully immersed herself in the real-world experience of helping produce a complex and elaborate musical production. As dance captain she employed skills that any professional working in theater must have, including an understanding of how critical minute details are to making great work, how to visualize and imagine creative solutions, and the importance of being both disciplined and flexible."
Words cannot express how much I have loved working on our school’s productions, and Oliver! will always hold a special place in my heart as my first time acting as dance captain. It has been electrifying to pursue my passion for theater and be a part of the camaraderie that exists between the entire cast and crew of each show. By participating in performing arts at Hewitt, I have put to use several new skills and made countless memories. Performing on stage has helped build my confidence, stage management has refined my organizational abilities, and being dance captain has given me the chance to be a leader and use my dance training in a new way. The skills that my peers and I are learning through Hewitt’s theater and performing arts programs are applicable to a variety of situations, and with this kind of collaborative and professional experience under my belt, I know that I will have the capabilities I need to conquer any career path that I choose to pursue.