PROVINCETOWN — Dress rehearsal is about to begin, and students are dancing around stage lights and props with all the giddiness of an ensemble that’s preparing to take the stage again after three years without a production.
“What are the overarching things we can improve on?” theater teacher Megan Amorese asks the students huddled around her following an early morning run-through of this year’s production of Beauty and the Beast.
“Sometimes, even when we don’t have to be somewhere super fast, we’re rushing,” says sixth-grader Shakira Brooker, who plays Lumiere, a charismatic French candelabra.
Aside from some coaching by their teacher and director, the play is put on entirely by the 40 musical theater students — about half the school — who perform, create the props and music, and run the tech.
“My favorite part is watching the kids take ownership of the show,” Amorese says. “By the time we get to the performance, I sit there, not doing anything. There’s this realization that a bunch of 9-to-13-year-olds are running this show right now.”
Catelyn Souza, who is in eighth grade, spent her morning in the control booth, pointing the spotlights on the singing utensils and townspeople coming alive below her. While it gets hot up there, Souza enjoys the view. “I love watching the entire thing come together,” she says.
The students in Amorese’s middle-school theater elective chose Beauty and the Beast after going through songs from the Broadway Junior catalogue. All the scripts and other materials are supplied by New York’s Music Theater International. The Disney classic follows the relationship between the Beast, a prince who because of a curse turns into a monster, and Belle, a young woman he imprisons in his castle. Around them, the castle staff have become animated household objects.
The musical has many ensemble numbers, so it’s also a good one for involving lots of students, Amorese says. While everyone who wants to participate gets a part, auditions were held in December for some roles.
Because Amorese works with the same students from year to year, she says she can usually anticipate who might do well in a particular role. But when auditions come around, she says, she is sometimes surprised by students who come out of their shells. “I love working with the ones who aren’t ‘theater kids,’ ” she says, “drawing out of them something they had no idea they had.”
The rehearsal schedule is intense: three mornings a week during the students’ elective period as well as about two hours after school Monday through Friday.
Being part of the production is not easy, but it’s rewarding to work with other students again, says eighth-grader Caroline Brown, who plays Mrs. Potts. “I don’t even mind the eight-hour rehearsals on Sundays because we just get to be with everybody,” she says.
Haley Jackson, also in eighth grade, who plays both the Wardrobe (a.k.a. Madame de la Grande Bouche) and a silly girl, says she was doubtful at first that the play would come together. “It’s surprising to see how far we’ve come since December,” she says.
The last play put on at the school was Shrek. That was in 2019. And while it’s great for the students to be back together again, they’re still facing pandemic-related challenges. There have been weeks when Covid spikes canceled rehearsals. In fact, there has not been a single rehearsal where at least someone wasn’t missing, Amorese says. Now, just days before the performances, a few essential cast members were missing after positive virus tests.
At times like this, the students learn to make adjustments and “to roll with situations that can’t be controlled,” Amorese says.
During rehearsal, she stops a number to point out where a prop should go, to have the lighting set up differently, or note where there should be “more energy.”
“You become the director, the choreographer, the stage manager, the technical director, and today I had to jump in to read lines,” Amorese says. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. “We have fun together,” she says.
Brooker agrees. She says she has enjoyed learning production skills with her friends, along with the process of performing. Her character, Lumiere, is a good fit. “Lumiere’s really social,” she says. “He’s very grand and open, just like I am in real life.”
There are lots of reasons to be in theater. “Mostly, I like being with other people again,” Brooker says, “working towards the same goal.”
Provincetown Schools Presents
The event: Beauty and the Beast
The time: Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21 at 6:30 p.m.
The place: Provincetown Schools, 6 Winslow Street
The cost: $10 adults, $5 students