Do you remember the combination to the lock on your high school locker?
If so, you’re likely young enough to remember what it’s like to roam the hallways on the first day of class, not knowing yet what clique you’ll be part of or if your best friends from junior high will continue to be in your corner as you all make the transition to an elevated form of education.
Who am I kidding? If you went to high school—no matter if it was last year or more than 20 years ago—some memories will stick to you no matter how many decades pass.
This became clear to me during a recent viewing of High School Musical at the Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth (BAAY). I was a drama club geek whose friends included everyone from jocks to cheerleaders to nerds (referred to as “brainiacs” in the musical), but I still vividly recall what it felt like to have to find my place in the alternate universe known as public education.
As I watched the kids sing and dance their way through the Disney pop vehicle, I realized that performing in a play about students from rival cliques learning to all just get along was probably going to give the tweens and teenagers onstage real-world experience in traveling outside their comfort zones when it comes to dealing with the social mores of high school.
I’m also guessing one reason BAAY’s show was so successful at telling the story of two teenagers (Gabriella’s a math whiz and Troy is a basketball star) who must navigate the line between doing what they really want to—falling in love and trying out for a musical—and pleasing their peers is that the director of the play is still in high school.
“What’s amazing about this production is that it’s all being put together by a 17-year-old student, who is directing, producing, choreographing and designing the set for the show,” BAAY founder and director David Post says.
Post says Kaleb Van Rijswijck, a student who went through the program, worked with other BAAY grads to get the team of young singers, actors and dancers ready for the stage. In less than three weeks, they accomplished just that.
Although having a former student direct the play was an experiment for BAAY, Post seems confident he made the right decision, pointing to the fact that Van Rijswijck and his able crew were responsible for just about every aspect of putting the production together—with plenty of help from parental volunteers, who did everything from creating the cheerleader’s costumes to helping man the box office.
In retrospect, having a high school student direct a play about high school students was a genius move. Who better understands the ups and downs of dealing with kids other than someone who is still roaming those hallways, struggling to find their place in the world? Who better knows the angst of first love, and all it implies? Who can look for inspiration in the whispered conversations in a high school lunch room?
Of course, Van Rijswijck didn’t create High School Musical on his own. In addition to those at BAAY who work hard to showcase the talents of local youth on a regular basis, the kids who dedicated their time and talents to the play were the real stars of the show. With one of their own leading the way, they came together and made it clear it doesn’t matter what clique you’re in, as long as you accept all of them. Which was kind of the point of the whole production.
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