West Side Story Captivates the Hearts of Our Students
APH students and faculty had the pleasure of experiencing West Side Story at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA. Along with students from several other schools in the area, APH students immersed themselves in the classic story, seated in the signature theatre-in-the-round.
Students in APH teacher Jenn Billings’ Humanities classes recently finished reading Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. As the musical progressed, the parallels between West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet quickly emerged. Students recognized these and excitedly shared them with each other and Mrs. Billings. One student discovered that Mercutio was portrayed as Riff in the musical. Another anxiously questioned if the musical would end in a tragedy like the play does. “It is such a joy to see students progress to make relevant connections between literature and the larger world,” said Mrs. Billings.
Following the performance, APH students were invited to a “talk back” session, where they had the opportunity to ask questions to the cast members. Students and faculty alike appreciated the diversity in the cast, as we found out that many of the actors portraying the ‘Jets’ are originally from Puerto Rico and Mexico. After the introductions, a student from a nearby high school asked the first question, albeit nervously, “Is it hard to stay in character when you are kissing on stage?” The ice was quickly broken, as students and cast alike laughed, opening the stage up for more discussion.
APH student Chloe asked, “What are some methods to stay in character?” Evy Ortiz, who played Maria, offered helpful and practical advice, such as making sure to stay hydrated and to continue to train yourself in new techniques, while always staying true to yourself.
A question from APH student Cashel regarding actors’ daily schedules lent to a very insightful look into the life of theatre performers. While the majority of the cast is based in New York, they shared how this profession requires a tremendous amount of flexibility and dedication. Many of the cast members hold a secondary job in addition to constantly attending auditions and performing in productions.
The cast described how learning and preparation is a continuous process; some members of the cast having completed graduate school, while everyone agreed that they are always taking classes or working to improve their skills. Reflecting on a question asked by the APH Drama & Politics teacher, cast members were very honest about their thoughts on performing the musical in America’s current political state. They shared that it made them feel like they need to continue to tell the story, as it still resonates even though West Side Story premiered over fifty years ago. They very poignantly explained how the final scene of the musical ends on with a glimpse of hope, and that in the end all we want is hope.