In order to pull off a successful version of The Pirates of Penzance, it’s necessary to have a pirate ship onstage.
And, because it’s a comic opera, you’ve also got to have actors that have impeccable timing and great voices. Oh, and an orchestra. And believable costumes.
Thanks to the stellar drama department at Bellingham High School, the aforementioned list of must-haves is doable—yep, even that pesky pirate ship.
Director Teri Grimes says in addition to the kids who portray the tender-hearted pirates, their love interests and the various other main and supporting actors that are required to bring the musical to life, she had a lot of help from other sources, such as music director Steve Barnes, pirate ship designer (and math teacher) Ben Goodwin, costumer (and parent) Genny Cohn, and countless others.
Still, with 47 actors, 12 orchestra members and a backstage crew of eight, Grimes admits things can get a little crazy. There’s also the consideration that, since she had so much talent to choose from—including students from other area high schools who she opened up the auditions to—Grimes double-cast a lot of the leads, meaning there was even more rehearsal time and other complicated logistics to consider.
“It’s a lot like herding cats,” Grimes says. “However, they’ve all been trained and know what to do to make it a professional show. We have a strong curriculum, both in-class and extracurricular, and they know their stuff.”
Grimes points out that, even in an age of budgetary cutbacks for the arts, Bellingham High School has maintained its reputation for putting on quality productions. Advanced stage production classes and an active thespian troupe that competes in both regional and state drama programs help teens foster a love for the stage, and “many, many” students have gone on to professional careers in theater.
Although putting on productions such as The Pirates of Penzance is admittedly hard work, Grimes says it’s exciting to see the community of kids having a good time, making new friends and being engaged in something they so obviously enjoy. She loves to watch them, and wants audiences to get just as excited as she is when she sees them excelling onstage.
“It’s an example of how important the performing arts are to all students,” Grimes says. “They can achieve at a significantly professional level if they are given the opportunity to do so. When there are trained and dedicated teachers at the helm, and a rich arts program to pull from, anything is possible. With budget cuts, program eliminations, and so on, we are very challenged to bring something like this together.
“All of our arts programs are suffering right now from a wide variety of issues that have impacted kids in a negative way. I think it is very important for the community to show their support of the arts by seeing what we can do, and just how important and joyous the entire arts program is for students.”
In other words, even if you don’t have a high school kid who’s in the show or are supporting someone who contributed to the musical in some way, this is a production worth seeing. And, after all, where else are you going to see a pirate ship cruising into stage left?
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