Drama department going places
The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School theater department has gone big time, and in little more than a year, will be going far. Under director Kate Murray's leadership, the theater group was selected from a national field by The American High School Theatre Festival to attend the August 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, one of the largest prestigious arts festival in the world.
Being one of the schools selected to represent American high school theater in Scotland comes hand in hand with the burden of funding it. Toward that end, Saturday's fundraiser at The Yard in Chilmark, "Evening of Edibles and Entertainment," is the first in a series of events to raise funds for the trip.
Along with music and scenes from "Charlie Brown," and "The Miracle Worker," there will be a full performance of "Letters," the original drama by Kate Murray and the MVRHS Theatre II class about letters home from a young serviceman in Iraq, that was presented at the competition.
The tickets will include a barbeque dinner buffet, dessert buffet, and the option of two beverages, provided by BravEncore, the department's nonprofit fundraising organization, with support from the kitchen staff at the Edgartown School.
Repeating last year's success at the department's fundraiser will be the "Infamous Tableside Talent Menu," a listing of theatrical acts such as a Shakespearian Sonnet or a staged swordfight, which for a $5 donation, diners can have performed by former and current students.
This latest recognition for the high school's theater department began when Robert Colby, an Emerson College professor who was impressed by the talent and skill of the MVRHS theater department at the Massachusetts Theater Guild State Competitions, nominated the department. The troupe was then reviewed by a panel of college theater professionals, who took into consideration the department's awards, recommendations, and community involvement.
Fundraising efforts are being steered by BravEncore. Founded in 2005, the fundraising organization enables the troupe to realize theatrical aspirations that are often larger than the theater department's budget can support.
"From a business standpoint it's a tremendously valuable resource to be able to provide your own entertainment at fundraisers and events," said Jake Estabrook, an MVRHS alumnus who is coming back to help with the fundraiser. "The students have the talent, power, and ability to prove how valuable their theater education is to them. It's great for students to see what they've learned create profit for a worthy cause."
"The department has gotten to this point where we're going to Scotland because of all the work that has been done over the past four years," said Valentine Estabrook, who continues devoting her time to the BravEncore board after her son Jake graduated. "The benefits of what you do follow you. The alumni aren't going to Scotland, but the work they put in has made the trip possible. They feel a duty to help the younger students have exciting opportunities as well."
Lydia Fischer, a 2008 graduate who will be playing music during the somewhat silent auction, continues to offer her time supporting the department. "It's something that needs to keep going," she says. "It helps kids with self-confidence and gives kids outside support. That's something that kids often don't get from their peers. It's too easy to be socially awkward or outcast, but when you're working on a team, you have the support of the people around you."
"We see the development and growth of the performing arts at the high school as being beneficial to the entire Island and the community," says Ms. Estabrook. "It takes time for us to meet our goals, and when you have these major goals, like Scotland, we have to draw on all sorts of new people to make this happen. It's great to have students who are involved and invested in our success."
Daniel Cuff, a senior who started doing theater during his junior year, says, "I had an open elective spot on my schedule, so I decided to go into a theater class. I never expected to get so involved with theater, but it was really welcoming and friendly to everyone. Especially in high school, where there are so many cliques, it's important to have something that gives you confidence."
Senior Katie Clarke, who starred as Helen Keller in this year's high school production of "The Miracle Worker," says, "When I started at the high school I was really shy. The theater department is a support system. There are friends and teachers who you can go to when you have a problem. The skills you build go with you."
"Evening of Edibles & Entertainment," Saturday, May 30, 6 pm, at The Yard in Chilmark. Tickets: adults, $25; seniors and students, $15.
Ben Williams is a frequent contributor to The Times.