This weekend, families have an opportunity to view the ultimate immersive experience of “reality theater” as Colonial Forge presents “High School Musical.” The genesis of this innovative adaptation of the Disney show is rooted in a long-held vision of drama teacher and director Deb Hansen. She had the idea seven years ago to produce the musical with two separate casts—one composed of students and the other of faculty playing the roles of the adolescents.

“I have had this idea floating in my head since the movie came out,” said Hansen. “This year the climate was right to get the teachers on board with it. The people here desired to enhance camaraderie among the staff and wanted it to feel like family. It seemed like it was a good time to say, ‘Maybe it’s time to kick it up a notch in terms of what you’re willing to do,’ and we all came together on this production.”

As the play begins, Gabriella, the new girl at East High, is learning the lay of the land and the cliques within the student body. A math genius, Gabriella is a likely candidate for the Brainiacs. She is surprised to see that Troy, a boy she met during a vacation at a ski resort, also attends the high school and is a star basketball player among the Jocks; the two begin to gravitate toward each other. Trouble emerges when they consider auditioning for the school production of “Juliet and Romeo,” crossing clique boundaries and treading on the domain of Sharpay, the haughty Thespian queen.

Soon members of both cliques, alarmed at the couple’s shake-up of the lines of demarcation and the “status quo,” determine to sabotage the pair’s theatrical pursuits and reclaim their member, even if its means undermining the couple’s relationship.

In the end, repentant for what they had done, the Jocks and Brainiacs join together to reunite their friends, revive their dream and ultimately win their parts in the school play.

“The basic message is to be true to who you are,” said English and journalism teacher Michael Snead, who plays Troy’s fellow Jock, Zeke. “It’s on the corny side, but it’s something everybody needs to be reminded of from time to time.”

“The story also shows that we are all in this together, just as in a classroom it takes everyone—students and teachers—to make a difference,” said psychology and government teacher Kim Barber, who plays an overly dramatic student auditioning for the school play.

Producing this multi-cast show was a massive undertaking for Hansen who worked closely with 52 student actors and 30 participating members of the school faculty and administration. “It’s been more challenging than I anticipated,” said Hansen, who also plays the role of Sharpay. “The kids come in with the expectation of daily three-hour rehearsals, but the teachers—who have meetings, other work obligations, and family responsibilities—are not available for that length of time.”

While challenging, the production also has its rewards, among which is the ready humor in the mismatch of faculty and youths as they portray students and teachers, respectively. On a deeper level, another reward is the accomplishment of Hansen’s original goal to enhance camaraderie and understanding among and between the faculty and students.

“I have learned that our faculty members are actually very interested and dedicated to our arts program, to the point that they have taken time out of their own lives to participate,” said student Brielle Melendez, who plays Gabriella.

As they interact in new and different environments, both students and teachers gain an empathy and appreciation for qualities that might not be highlighted in a classroom setting.

“It’s been odd getting to know the faculty as more of equals than just teachers and authority figures. It has been really nice to get to know each of them more personally than just their last name and teaching styles,” said student choreographer Riley Ford.

“I’ve learned just how awesome these kids are, they are so willing to help and so committed to this musical. It’s nice to get to know the students outside the classroom and to see more of who they are when they’re not sitting behind a desk,” said Barber. “And the faculty! We’ve got some hidden talent here!”

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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