By Liz LeCrone
Holt Journal staff writer
For many, the rewards of theater involve a successful opening night amidst great applause from an audience of friends, family and strangers. For the students of Holt Senior High School, the friendships made on and off the set were more than enough.
On April 19, Holt Senior High School staged its spring musical. This year’s production was “Fiddler on the Roof,” a story of one town’s fight to maintain tradition in the face of outside influence.
“My position was new when this building was new, so I am, actually, its first slave,” Jeff Miller, the theater director, says with a chuckle. He has worked for Holt Schools for 10 years and been doing theater for 30. He has watched traditions come and go. The one thing that never changes, though, is the struggle for funding from the district. According to the 2012 Survey of Theatre Education in United States High Schools, the average high school musical costs $7,394.
Musical Theatre International is the licenser of “Fiddler on the Roof,” along with 316 other musicals and works with more than 12,000 high schools to raise the next generation of theater artists and audiences. It offers step-by-step assistance to schools putting on productions, including community rentals, theatrical resource guides and fundraising tips.
In 1994, Musical Theatre International started the MTI Broadway Junior Collection to introduce theater at the elementary and middle schools. According to a study of three New York schools, the program not only helped children develop social skills and self-confidence, it also encouraged a more positive and interactive atmosphere among students and teachers.
“We in the theater department believe that our role is to provoke and sustain interest in the theater as a source of truth and insight into the human condition,” says Dionne O’Dell, advisor and programming director at the Michigan State University Department of Theater. “The medium of theater provides an opportunity to enhance understanding of the changing world we live in and to bring people together in collective engagement and thought.”
The students of Holt scramble around under the watchful eye of their play director, Dave Runyon, and it is easy to see why theater is important. “We’re having practice, here!” Runyon shouts at giggling cast members off stage, but there is no real anger in his voice as he turns back to the actor who is asking him about one of her props.
“They’re having fun. That’s really what it’s about,” says Miller, looking at his students on stage. “When I finally stop and look at them all and say, ‘You’ve rehearsed, you know your lines. You know your characters, you’ve been through this … What’s the one thing I always tell you guys? It’s to be up there, be in character and have fun. I promise you, the audience is there to support you, they’re there to see what you have to offer, not to judge you.’”