The Pilgrim auditorium was buzzing with activity Wednesday afternoon as the high school’s drama club neared the big dance coming up this weekend. That’s because it was “tech week,” and things were getting real in a hurry for a youthful and evolving Pilgrim drama club.
This fall’s musical production, set for three shows this weekend, is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a similar production to the Whitney Houston version, according to members of the club’s board. This is the second time Pilgrim is doing a musical production of Cinderella, but the first of this version.
Richard Denningham, in his eleventh year as the club’s director, said that the youthful cast – only two of the eight lead characters are actors who’ve played former leads – has slowed things down a little bit in this year’s production that began in August. But the inexperience means that more students are getting involved in the club — plus they’re still putting on a great production this year.
“We haven’t had cuts in musicals for the past two years because I want to give kids opportunities,” he said. “There are seniors and juniors who came over [from Vets] who never had opportunities.”
These opportunities that Denningham is giving to theatrically inclined students have led to an increase in involvement recently, making for an energetic, but youthful, club board and group of members.
Junior Emily Souza is the only one on the 4-person board who came over from Vets during the merger.
“I felt like a new freshman when I came here from Vets,” she said. “Meeting all these amazing people, helping me out, because I was obviously nervous auditioning in front of people I don’t know and they were all very welcoming. When I got here I was like, ‘finally, theatre!”
That enthusiasm for the club is matched by senior Georgia Testa, president of the club, junior Grace Pine, vice president, and sophomore financial officer Kayley Hollingshead.
Testa joined the club her freshman year as a general stage technician and has now been the stage manager for four shows, including Cinderella.
“Drama’s just really cool,” she said. “It’s a mesh of people that you probably wouldn’t normally encounter in the classroom. You’re going to a group of people that otherwise in a classroom session you probably wouldn’t have met. And it’s always something new, something exciting.”
Pine and Hollingshead agreed that they have experienced growth during their high school years because of the club, pointing out the friends they’ve made from the club and the welcoming nature of everyone involved.
The cost of this inclusive club and their two yearly productions does tend to get pretty high though, according to Denningham.
“Musicals especially are incredibly expensive,” he said. “Performance rights and rental rights are high. This show we had to spend a lot on costumes and the set was more elaborate.”
In order to fund the productions, which can cost up to around $8,000, there are three main sources of income: ticket sales, advertisements on the playbill, and an extremely useful $1,200 yearly grant from the Robert Shapiro Fund, named for the late former superintendent of Warwick schools.
That donation, Denningham said, covers the legal rights to performing the show and is usually what keeps the club from posting a yearly deficit. Last year, for example, the club cleared $1,800 in total profit, so almost 70% was because of the Shapiro grant.
Advertisements are also helpful, as Grace Pine said that she brought in $375 by herself “because of the great people in the community.” Ads, she said, sell for anywhere between $25 and $100 for local business and organizations.
Denningham, meanwhile, does get paid per the teacher’s contract the same amount as an assistant coach of a sports team would. And despite his claim that he doesn’t think he’s doing anything more than people in the same position at other schools are, his passion for the club is shown by the 10:00 p.m. end times of rehearsals and his decision to not make cuts (during the fall productions at least) to make sure everyone who wants to be part of the club can be.
Denningham’s passion is shared by the cast and crew of this year’s musical production. The four board members beamed with pride about the show, which they said has “some really great singers,” a bunch of new set props, including a “massive backdrop and spiral staircase,” and a true comedic flair.
Although there were challenges in putting all of the set together and making sure their timing was down for the quick costume changes during the show, the club is ready for their audience to enjoy the music, dancing, and comedy of this weekend’s show.
The price of tickets, which Denningham said are geared towards bringing in students, will be $10 for adults and $5 for students, seniors, and children. The show runs at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday with a final show on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.