Since October, teens from across our region have been coming to The 5th after school and on weekends to learn about theater careers and train with professional mentors. The group of more than ninety-five young people will ultimately mount their own production of West Side Story in July – taking on roles not only on stage but on the technical crew, in the costume and wardrobe and hair and makeup departments, in the orchestra—as well as in marketing, development, producing, stage management, artistic leadership, and casting.
We recently sat down with four of this year’s students to ask them questions about musical theater, West Side Story and their hopes for Rising Star Project’s seventh year…
What do you think is about to happen?
Oanh (Stage Crew, sophomore at Rainier Beach High School) is the first to break the ice. “A hundred teenagers scuttling about the theater? Trying not trip over seats and cords? It’s basically going to be like at school – probably… but more organized? Since it’s professional! But I haven’t worked at a professional theater before, so I can’t make that kind of assumption.”
The group laughs, realizing this is truly the first time that any of them will take part in a production of this scale.
What are your Rising Star Project teammates going to be learning about you in the coming weeks?
Jackson (Tony, junior at Mount Rainier High School): “Well—before I got into theater I was the ‘sports guy.’ I did football, baseball, tennis, soccer, swimming, gymnastics. I did all these sports, like: ‘I’m an athlete and I’m going to play football and baseball be in the Hall of Fame of both!’ But my parents actually met singing in a choir and my dad has done theater his whole life and my mom has always sung. When my sister started getting into choirs and theaters, I thought it seemed interesting and my parents would tell me “Oh, you have a voice – but you’re just so shy…” so I started singing in choir with my sister to see if I could gain more confidence. And then I started doing some shows… Until, when I was in middle school—and I had to choose between a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or football. I decided that I wouldn’t do football – that I’d try to audition. And I got a role. I think that role was when I was like, ‘I really like this…more than sports.’ That was a definitive moment for me. Now everything is theater and music.”
Oanh: First, I’m on the stage crew and I’m interested in lighting… but ironically I’m afraid of heights–so it’s difficult for me to be on the catwalk. And second, my eyes are really sensitive to lights. But I guess I really enjoy pushing buttons. My main role at school is as a Technical Director, which is more about telling people to push buttons instead of actually pushing the buttons. But I enjoy pushing the buttons, too. It’s a lot of fun. And I’m enticed by all of the fancy equipment that they have here [at The 5th].
Diego (Arts Administration: Community Engagement, senior at Ballard High School): Over the course of high school, I’ve gotten more and more involved with community organizing. I love theater, but negotiating the two spaces and going back and forth can be difficult at times. So part of what I’ve been trying ask myself over the past couple of years is—how do I make it so that when I come from a community organizing space into a theater space I still feel the same energy and I don’t feel like the two are in conflict with each other? And how do we bring the ideas from one into the other? What are the ways that the people around us have made art for generation and generations and generations and have made it equitably and ethically and beautifully? I think theater is another form of organizing the community around something – around an idea and around action.
Alia (Maria, senior at Skyline High School): When I was in kindergarten, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s eleven years in remission now—which is great—but during this experience, I learned that time is so fleeting and you never know what’s going to happen… As cliché as that sounds. But my family really instilled in me that I should do what I really want to do with my life—again, because you never really know what’s going to happen. I started doing theater for fun. But over the past few years, I started to get more serious about it and realized that theater does have an impact. And I’m not at an operating table or working as a nurse, but I could still have the power to affect people and maybe save lives. You can help someone laugh or smile… Or, with a show like West Side Story, you have the opportunity to reach out and open their mind to a point of view that is new to them.
Rising Star Project production of West Side Story runs July 12-13. For more information, visit www.5thavenue.org.
Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.