Once On This Island to Open at the Lebanon Opera House
North Country Community Theater Teens are in deep rehearsal
12:00 noon to 9:00 p.m. workdays this week, and at no pay. Waltzing, singing, trying to follow the moves of the choreographer. Coming into the scene too soon and having to start over. Blocking--where to stand and how to move onstage--subject to tweaking. Upwards of 60 young people from 10 high schools in Vermont and New Hampshire are spending their spring break in final rehearsals of the Tony Award-winning Once On This Island. This musical, set in the Caribbean, explores issues of class and social action, with a touch of Romeo and Juliet. The curtain goes up next weekend at the Lebanon Opera House.
Isabelle Hall as Ti Moune (right, in purple) follows choreographer Susan Lamontagne (left, in baseball cap)
NCCT Teens is a branch of the North Country Community Theater; this play marks its 24th anniversary. It is not your garden-variety high school play. Members of NCCT Teens are responsible for every facet of their work. They have a 12-member board that began preparations for this production almost one year ago. The board first must decide on a play, gathering and bringing suggestions to an initial meeting. Board members then research and winnow. Past plays have included On The Town and 42nd Street. The board looks for pieces with numerous roles in order to maximize the number of actors on the stage. This year, you will see more than 60 individuals acting in Once on This Island.
Play selection is only the beginning. The board holds auditions for actors and schedules interviews to hire a handful of professionals to help them. These include people like Beth Zuttermeister, Production Manager, Lanni Luce West, Director, Choreographer Susan Lamontagne, and Jane Woods, Musical Director. There are also Teen Advisors like Amy Fortier, who help to shepherd the process from beginning to end. Most of the adults have chosen to re-up from year to year, but they must go through the interviewing and hiring process each time.
Thea LaCrosse, senior at Hanover High and co-president of the board, will be playing the role of Asaka, mother of the earth.
According to Thea LaCrosse, co-president, fundraising is another of the board's tasks. The teens run concessions at Dartmouth hockey games and at other Lebanon Opera House events. (The next time you attend anything at the LOH, look for them and buy something.) They have held car washes.
Henry Lang, the other co-president, remembers his parents bringing him to the theater in the days of his extreme youth to see High School Musical. He was hooked. As a high-school senior at Hanover High, this is his last NCCT Teens experience as both a board member and actor (Daniel Beauxhomme); new board members will be chosen in the next few weeks to begin work on the 2018 production. Lang acknowledges that these 9 hour rehearsal days are difficult, but "loves seeing 65 people in one space", working to put it all together. Both he and LaCrosse stated that one of the best parts of this experience is the ability to meet and work with young people from other high schools (and home-schools).
Henry Lang, co-president, is headed to Northwestern University upon graduation.
Fortier, one of the Teen Advisors, loves it all, and has been at it long enough to watch freshmen begin at NCCT Teens, then continue in the theater through high school to their senior years. And then they are gone. Not often forgotten, however, as many keep in touch about their college theater experiences. In addition to theater work, Fortier sees NCCT Teens as imparting any number of life skills, such as budgeting, interviewing, organizing, and professional interactions with a variety of people outside of each individual high school's bubble. Every participant is required to sign a pledge to remain substance-free.
Practicing that dance number. . . Jane Woods at keyboard, far left. A live orchestra will be playing for the performances.
For these students, the annual NCCT Teens production is special, and a labor of love. They also act in other venues, like their own high school performances, and often at other local theaters. Tyler Nabinger, who plays Papa Ge in Island, will be in rehearsal soon for the upcoming musical Mamma Mia at Northern Stage.
Watching and talking with these young, talented, and mature people helps to put a positive face on the future overall, but particularly with regard to the future of the theater. Theaters everywhere acknowledge that they are eager to attract younger audiences. The average age of Broadway theatergoers is 44 years, and every year the age increases. Not everyone in NCCT Teens is planning a career in theater, but I imagine there is a better than even chance that they will park themselves in theater seats throughout their lives.
You have a single weekend to catch this show. Performances begin on Friday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 4 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, and Sunday, March 5 at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are available through the box office at the Lebanon Opera House.
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge