Parker Hall transformed into ‘Island’ of songs

The globe lights dim and the crowd simmers down. Everyone’s eyes reach out to the stage, eagerly waiting for the play to start.

As a response to their yearning, gods, peasants, and city dwellers creep out one by one, to present the opening night of Once On This Island.

A musical, set on a Caribbean island, which subtly brought out some heavy modern day issues such as gender inequality, colonialism, race issues, society’s expectations of women was presented Nov. 15-17.

The cast began to sing their harmonious songs, taking the audience to a distant exotic island, where they told the story of TiMoune, a little village girl. While they did that, they also took a step closer towards the climax to their personal stories, alongside the crew.

The Revival

As much as the return of the drama department was flamboyant, until the day of their opening night, there were struggles.

Mr. Curran Russell, drama teacher, has now directed 12 plays at Woodstock. He said, “It [was] a bigger commitment this semester than it usually is, because of the ensemble coming alongside.” Hence, he was “a little nervous” with the departure of last year’s students “because there were a lot of performers in that class.” But he was “really blown away by the people that came out” at auditions. “There were really talented actors, so I [had] pretty high hopes for this year,” Mr. Russell said.

With 23 actors, six musicians, eight stage managers, seven AV crew members, eight people on set and props, seven people on costume crew, and five people on the makeup crew, this drama production made a huge comeback.

The hugs and compliments the cast and crew received after the play ended did not just seem like words; they were awards for the arduous effort put by those 65 people for five months, and the last two and a half hours before the show, to make it transpire into a great one.

Opening Night

At around 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 15, Parker Hall was chaotic.

They were so many things going on, all at the same time. Actors were calling each other out to rehearse the iconic song “Little Girl” with Mr. Alex Heetland, the choir teacher; Mr. Russell was taking attendance, and at the same time giving directions to stage managers and AV Crew; Mrs. Lexi Hubbard, the costume crew leader, was mending the last pieces of clothes backstage for this “extreme play.”

Stage managers were pacing their way through Parker Hall as per Mr. Russell’s request, to clear out the chairs and help the bhaiya jis arrange them in the assigned format, as others were giving final touches on the stage props with a staple gun.

An hour passed by, and all the actors were in the makeup room getting ready, as other crew members headed for dinner.

Meanwhile, Mr. Russell was still talking to a couple of AV Crew members to make sure that the light and sound cues were in the right place.

“Someone usually brings dinner up for me and I eat while working,” Mr. Russell said, although he was “not sure” when he would be able to eat.

In the midst of this mess, Ms. Venna Grace Mendrez, dance teacher, revealed how all of that clutter finally came together: through Mr. Russell’s understanding nature and Mr. Heetland’s capability to bring out the voices of the actors.

Nonetheless, as much as Mr. Russell, Mr. Heetland, and Ms. Mendrez were amazing, the fact that the actors followed each and every direction also played a huge role as part of their progress. “All the performers are good and talented. They listen to feedback and apply it,” Ms. Mendrez said.

With the cooperative atmosphere where cast and crew jumped in together to support and help each other, with the blink of an eye, they were on the climax of their journey: opening night!

As much as this was an excitement, for many of the cast, it was a saddening event. Diya Bubber, Class 2025, expressed how she does not “want this to end after all the time [they] have worked together.”

Before Closing Night

It was about time for house opening, everyone formed a crumpled circle backstage as nervous laughter and words of encouragement filled the atmosphere.

“Don’t cry! You will mess up your make up!” Khushi Agrawal, Class of 2019, warned her cast mates.

Manasvi Khanna, Class of 2019, added, “You guys, save your tears!” The tiny room backstage started to face a flooding of watery eyes. As they braced themselves, the group held hands, waiting for Mr. Russell to call out a word.

“Family,” Mr. Russell said.

And they were ready for their emotional ritual.

Counting backward from 10, with 10 being the quietest they could speak, they intensely crescendoed their way to one, blasting out their voices and taking a jump-step inwards, repeating the word “family.”

In the process of preparing and rehearsing, they not only amazed the audience with a magnificent musical but also found a second family apart from their distant ones.

With tears held back, cast and crew held each other, scared to let go of the moment for which they had worked such a long time.  

Closing Night

The globe lights dimmed and the crowd simmered down. Everyone’s eyes reached out to the stage, eagerly waiting.

As a response to the yearning, all the actors who were burying their faces in each other’s hugs, stepped on stage to present Once On This Island for one last time.

The stage managers aided the cast with all the possible requirements during transitions, and the actors hastily made their way from one entrance to the other. From helping to hand out props and costumes to moral support, they were united as a family.

The team tackled their way through all the obstacles of sore throats and tiredness of the week, together. Suddenly, every one of them was standing in front of the audience, receiving their well-deserved applause, as they marked an end to their show.

They greeted their fellow members of the production and the audience, and there they were at the end of the climax to the story of their progress from scratch until closing night.

When this family finally found time for themselves after receiving all of the acknowledgments from the audience, everyone collapsed on each other, some shedding tears, some having the widest smiles on their faces as to they were celebrating the resolution of their stories.

“Good job,” Veer Arya, Class of 2020, said to every possible person he saw, and so did the other cast and crew members. On that cold night, the family managed to warm their hearts and themselves with all those hugs.

They stood in the corridor cherishing the last moments with their family. A moment which they dreamed of for five months, and the one they will never forget. That moment, however, marked a period to their journey. While going their separate ways, they thought to themselves: The drama productions shall be back with another impeccable show in Spring 2019!

Featured image by Tanushri Warrier

A major contribution by Shivaansh Garg

Edited by Rohan Menezes

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