Editor’s Note: “The show must go on.” The MHS drama department is getting a crash course. Calendar quirks compressed the usual production schedule from 12 weeks to 10. With less than a week until Opening Night, two rehearsals have been lost to weather shutdowns of school–and snow is forecast for Wednesday. “It’s really unfortunate, but we’re just going to have to do our best!” says Artistic Director Michael Maguire.
By Bailey McGuinn
Morristown High School Theatre is in the midst of its tech week for this year’s Spring Musical, Anything Goes.
While the show officially opens Thursday March 8, 2018, the program is producing two additional performances– a “sensory-friendly” performance on Tuesday, March 6, and, weather permitting, a show for senior citizens on Wednesday, March 7.
This is the second year the department has included a sensory-friendly production, which is altered to accommodate audience members with special needs, especially those who may require a less intense or stimulating environment.
The company’s goal is to produce a performance that anyone in the community can see and enjoy. It’s free and will include adjusted volume and lighting settings, increased availability of exits, and access to classrooms with calming activities as needed.
“The pit has to play the music significantly softer,” says David Gallagher, music director and pit conductor.
“It’s not as simple as turning a volume knob on a stereo. For some of the instruments it requires advanced extended techniques to achieve tone quality and balance at a softer dynamic. This is something we always have to practice and prepare for because it is so different from a regular show.”
Artistic Director Michael Maguire says Anything Goes will follow Broadway standards for sensory adjustments.
“As far as the students and others that will be in attendance for the show– we are so grateful for their support of our program. We feel so strongly about how important our sensory-friendly show is to our community and feel privileged that we’re able to produce a show for members of our community that require a show like this,” Maguire says.
Last year’s performance was a success thanks in part to then-student Leo Ruiz, who helped bring it to fruition.
After winning the “Theatre for All: Access and Inclusion” Award from the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2016 for the spring musical Once Upon A Mattress, the MHS program aimed to go a step further by creating a performance specifically tailored to persons with special needs.
The school won the same award in 2017 for Legally Blonde, which strove for inclusion of students and adults with disabilities in all aspects of the theater program as well as accessibility for audiences.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the sensory-friendly Show for Anything Goes,” says MHS Director of Pupil Services Jessica Neu.
“Last year was a truly remarkable experience for students with special needs and their families. The performance really lends itself to an inclusive environment for everyone. I am so proud of the students who are in the cast and crew of the show and all of their hard work and dedication.”
The program, which has become a large part of the school community, embraces all students, regardless of special needs or disabilities. The department prides itself on using theater as a powerful tool to bring students together and promote positive messages of acceptance.
“We love having such an inclusive cast!” exclaims Maguire. “It makes every day more interesting and gives a chance for representatives from the whole student body to participate in the program.”
Amy Ghelli, mother of freshman and first-year cast member Jackson Ghelli, brought her son to last year’s sensory-friendly show.
“I had never brought Jackson to the theater because it’s a long time to be sitting, and there are many potential sensory triggers for a child with autism,” she says.
“We decided to give the show a try and I was so happy that it was such an inclusive environment for him. It was during this show that my son, who had never expressed interest in theater before, decided that he wanted to be a part of this drama club when he started high school that fall.
“This program has opened up a whole world for my son that I didn’t think would ever be available to him, and I’ve seen more progress in his social skills during these past months than in the many years of his specialized autism therapy combined,” Amy Ghelli says.
“Kids are including him in activities and allowing him to be his quirky self without judgment, and he’s told me numerous times how the program makes his heart feel full.”
Snacks or beverages from home are welcome, and there is a “chill room” for any audience members who feel overwhelmed at any point during the performance. Additionally, house lights will remain dimmed so patrons feel comfortable while still seeing their surroundings.
Maddie, the program’s Theater Therapy Dog, also will be in attendance to help anyone who needs a little extra love!
Please visit the show’s Sensory-Friendly page for more information.
After these special productions, Anything Goes takes the stage for four more performances only, from March 8-11, so make your way before it sets sail! Tickets are $8-$15.
TUESDAY, MARCH 6 @ 6:00 PM (Sensory Friendly Performance!)
THURSDAY, MARCH 8 @ 7:00 PM
FRIDAY, MARCH 9 @ 7:00 PM
SATURDAY, MARCH 10 @ 7:00 PM
SUNDAY, MARCH 11 @ 2:00 PM
Bailey McGuinn is a senior at Morristown High School.