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Drama Returns to Intermediate Schools

Hillside continues its drama club, Eisenhower brings it back.

One school is having its first play a year after the program was eliminated in budget cuts, and one is proud to continue its tradition of a play a year—but for students and staff at both and , they are proud of the work they have accomplished.

“The opportunity to have the play is missed when it is not there,” said Hillside teacher Katrina Macht, who works behind the scenes on the play.

When the district was forced to deal with budget cuts several years ago, the drama program, and other extracurricular activities, at the intermediate schools were eliminated.

At Hillside, Macht, her husband Timothy and others who worked on the play opted to go another route to ensure they could continue to offer the program without the stipend normally given by the district.

“We never stopped having our theater program because we used grant money to sustain it when the program was cut,” Katrina Macht said. “So we had a play every year.”

Timothy Macht, who is directing the play, said it was important to both the students and parents to keep the program going.

“Keeping that tradition alive was important, and if the district hadn’t come up with whatever money was available this year, I think we would have still tried to apply for grants to keep the program going,” he said.

Macht said he believes it is important for the students to get a taste of the theater program before they enter the middle and high school, where there are even more opportunities available.

“It’s a good confidence-building exercise for the actors, and a good community-building exercise for the actors and the parents,” he said. “Anything community-oriented when it comes to school is important.”

This year, Hillside is performing “Anne of Green Gables,” with performances Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. The play costs $5 to attend.

“We like to look for scripts that are going to cast the most students, good scripts that are appropriate for this age level, both fifth and sixth grades,” Katrina Macht said. “It’s a little old-fashioned, and not as popular, but it’s a great story and the students are excited to be involved.”

Macht said the students are very committed to putting the play together.

“They are here until 6:30 every night,” she said. “I think it will come together nicely.”

With the drama program being brought back at the schools, the only change is that it is now pay to play. Macht said the students pay money to participate in the program, which pays the stipend for the person running it.

Macht said it is $75 to be in the play, $50 for the Roots and Shoots program and $50 for the school newspaper.

“It varies depending on the program,” she said.

This year, Macht said, there are about 60 people in total in the program, with 30 actors and 20 behind the scenes, which is about the same as last year, despite the required payment to participate.

“Not every child has the money to participate,” she said. “There are children who miss out on opportunities, not just the drama club, but all extracurriculars. Parents have to be able to afford to participate.”

“The stipend is what the kids pay into,” she added. “We do a nice job with what we have. Lots of donations are made in terms of set pieces and props.”

And the stipend, Macht said, only covers the theater program, while other arts programs are still grant-funded, including the Roots and Shoots variety show.

For students at Eisenhower Intermediate, this year brought a welcome program back.

After it was eliminated, many hoped for it to return, including student , who created a petition to entice the district to reinstate it, and got more than 140 people to sign it.

But, on April 11, the Eisenhower drama club presented its first performance in two years of “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.”

“The students and parents were ecstatic to have drama club back at Eisenhower this year,” said Colleen Grzywacz, vocal music teacher at the school. “It was also a challenge, though, beginning from scratch since no students had been in an Eisenhower show prior to this year. Rather than building on our previous drama club program, we had to start fresh, which had its advantages as well as disadvantages.”

Grzywacz said parents were involved with aspects of the show that included costumes, scenery, ticket sales and more.

“The reaction from the school was extremely positive,” she said. “When we performed for the school, the students were such attentive audience members and the teachers claimed it was one of our best shows ever.”

Still, with the program coming back this year, it was also the first time for pay to play with it.

“We were worried that this would deter students from auditioning, but that was not the case,” Grzywacz said. “We auditioned about 200 students over three days, and chose 90 for the cast and crew.”

Preparation for the show began in December, and the hard work began in January, with rehearsals twice a week through March, when they switched to three and four rehearsals a week.

“The energy, professionalism and self-sufficiency of the fifth and sixth grade students were incredible,” Grzywacz said. “Everyone was so proud.”

Grzywacz said the $75 fee was required, and part of that money was used to help cover the costs of the rights to the show, scripts, music, costumes, scenery, props and sound.

“The buzz around the school since the show has ended has been nothing but energetic and exciting,” she said. “We can tell that next year we will have a large group auditioning once again, which is fantastic.”

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