Part Two of the behind-the-scenes series following the MS Fall Musical from day one to curtain calls.
October 24: “The Jacks are back.”
This week, teachers Brooke Houghton, Felipe Moltedo, and Keith Hudspeth continued to riff off one another in rehearsal, communicating lessons whose importance ripple far beyond a Middle School musical. The full cast was called up for a “stumble-through” of the show, picking up where they left off from the previous rehearsal. But first, we cut to the opening scene of rehearsal in which we find Shanwai Lin ’25 up a tree.
In preparation for the mid-musical scene “Giants in the Sky,” art teacher Susan Mols and Felipe discussed adjustments to the set piece tree into which Shanwai would scramble while singing. The scene and musical number tell the story of Jack (of beanstalk notoriety) returning from his adventures in the sky. He returns, pensive, reflecting on how the journey has changed him: “The roof, the house, and the world you never thought to explore/...And you’re back again only different than before.”
Yet, something far more magical (even than magic beans) is in store for audiences than Stephen Sondheim imagined when he wrote Into the Woods. Because of the large interest in musical theater in Middle School, the team created doubled roles in which students collaborate to portray a single character. Imagine the fun, for example, in watching new-to-GDS students Naomi Borek ’25 and Sophia Moen ’25 dance while attached at the hip by a cow costume. “It’s challenging because we have to make sure we are both attached, but it’s also more fun,” Naomi said. They portray Milky White the Cow and collaborate even while being pulled in two different directions.
The role of the double Jacks is played by Shanwai and Avram Shapiro ’24 who play it as brothers. “It’s a new thing we added to the show,” explained Avram. “Jack is a sillier character, which makes for an interesting dynamic when played by two people. We think about the part a bit differently when we have to interact with the other. We have to use not only dialogue specifically for that but our tone and gestures. It’s both a cooperative relationship and also a competitive one as we figure out how to share lines. Splitting the part into two makes it more challenging and also more fun. It’s fun having a person to interact with a foil, and it will be a lot of fun to watch.”
From an educational standpoint, the doubled role has created opportunities for Brooke to speak explicitly about choices they are making as actors. “It’s not only more dynamic than it could have been with just one actor, but their collaboration has helped build a strong sense of character in the story. These are two actors working across grade levels—two actors who did not know each other before. We’ve allowed them each to explore how they interpret the role and then helped them understand both where they are different as actors and also where their objectives line up.” Vocally, Shanwai and Avram harmonize the musical number, a challenging duet in itself.
Throughout rehearsal Brooke, Felipe, and Keith gave the students language to help them describe and build upon the way they’ve chosen to play a scene. They brainstormed with the actors to plan stage entrances with musical cues or how to speak to other actors while projecting to the audience.
Two moments towards the end of rehearsal encapsulated much of what participating in the Middle School musical can achieve for children. In an especially sweet, yet serious moment, Caroline Gann ’25 from the props crew stepped out in front of the full cast, cuddling the fragile papier-mâche hen (of golden eggs fame) she’d made for the show. The teachers used this moment to remind the entire cast of the crew’s hard work and of the respect their props and set pieces deserved.
Finally, Finn Errett ’24, as Rapunzel’s Prince, stood with his foot propped on a stage cube and, for the first time, belted out his lines in the garish manner required by the role. The teachers erupted in wild cheers again and again as Finn broke into new acting territory.
From rehearsal to rehearsal, even stumbling through the weeds of Into the Woods JR., we witness breakout moments of growth as rapid as if some magic acting beans have just been planted.
Stay tuned for updates as the show comes together and add the three performance dates to your calendar: November 15, 16, and 17 at 7:00 p.m.
Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.