Eighth grade is an exciting time. Not only are you the head of the middle school, but you finally get the eighth grade privileges you have been for for waiting three years. While jeans on the first Friday of the month, getting a little sis, and being able to eat outside on the cafeteria patio are all exciting, the eighth grade play is one of the most defining moments of middle school. Each year, the play is either written by the class, or it is a musical. This year, they performed Roald Dahl’s musical James and the Giant Peach, Jr.
The play follows the story of James, an orphan who recently lost his parents in a rhinoceros attack. He is informed that he is to live with his evil, con-artist aunts: Spiker and Sponge. After being forced to work while his aunts are gallivanting, James is introduced to Ladahlord, who gives him a potion that will solve his problems. To his dismay, the potion spills and gives the peach tree and insects nearby magical powers. His aunts use this time with the world’s largest peach to make money and invite people from all over to come and view their masterpiece. Once James enters the peach, he meets Ladybug, Grasshopper, Spider, Earthworm, and Centipede, and the peach dismounts its tree. They travel through the clouds and the Atlantic Ocean and end up in New York City on top of the Empire State Building. Through singing and spending time with his new companions, he learns that he is not alone and his parents are always there for him in spirit, even if they can not be there in person. He discovers the importance of the comfort a family provides, because he is able to get that love from his new insect friends. Throughout the journey, songs are sung by the peach visitors, James and his new friends, and his mischievous aunts. The songs are used to advance the plot and incorporate a light atmosphere into a play with heavier themes of loss and moving on.
Jenny Hundley, middle school theater teacher and director of the play, decided to double cast the play in order to best showcase all of the talent the class of 2020 has to offer. And talented they were! Nothing but praise surrounded both the opening night performance on Friday, February 19th and the matinee performance on Saturday the 20th. Hundley says the performances went “incredibly well” and she is “extremely proud” of the kids and their hard work.
The eighth grade play is largely student-run. Of course, it could not be done without the leadership of Hundley and other faculty. Samson Trinh, founder and director of the Upper East Side Big Band and the Uke ‘n’ Roll School, and Lynn G. Atkins, Jr., Collegiate’s Middle and Upper School Choral Director, served as the the co-musical directors. Kate Parthemos, Collegiate’s Fine Arts Assistant, was the production assistant and costume designer. Zach Townsend, Collegiate’s Technical Director/Set Designer, was the set design and construction manager, while Jonathan Shelley, the Theater Manager at Collegiate, was the lighting, sound and media designer. Upper School Administrative Assistant Julie Miller served as the puppet master, and Mike Boyd, Director of Performing Arts and Calendaring at Collegiate, served as the producer. The other positions are student-held. Madison F., a stage manager, “called all the light and sound cues.” Students designed the posters, the cover of the program, the t-shirt, and worked on the construction crew. Grace S., a member of the video crew, said, “[I] videotape[d] rehearsals and ma[de] promo videos and I video’d the full thing.”
The set of the play was extremely detailed and creative. The giant peach was the centerpiece for most of the play, and it had a technical element where the peach would grow and grow. Then, once James is inside the peach, there is room for him and all his friends on raised bench seating. It provided a feel to the audience that the peach was actually flying and floating to America. The set was very professional and provided the perfect atmosphere for the play.
Unlike other Collegiate productions, the eighth grade play is produced in just six short weeks. Additionally, there are not afterschool rehearsals, but instead is entirely produced within study halls. This is astonishing, given the professionalism of the performances in the final production. Hundley says “we had a lot to do from Tuesday to now, so that week of growth, is not even a week, five days, is huge.” She says these five days are so important because they “don’t have stage or full set until the week of the play.” Gracie S. described the days leading up to the show feeling “a little nervous at first because it didn’t seem like we were getting through things, but I think everyone pulled it off really well.” Plus, for many, this is their first time acting and singing since the first grade play in Lower School. Kate Kinder (‘17) said about her sister Grace, who played Spiker on Friday night, “I never realized my sister could sing and act,” and she was happily surprised with how Grace performed. Alex M., who has experience acting, sung the praises of the cast by saying, “I’ve done other shows with other theater companies, and the ensemble was outstanding, I’ll tell you that. They were much more enthusiastic than many other ensembles I’ve worked with. It was a really fun show overall.”
One of the main learning experiences of the play is discovering how to manage time effectively. With upper school only months away, the busier schedule prepares students for the higher workload and level of intensity that upper school brings. Madison F. says, “I haven’t had a study hall in two months,” which can make getting homework done more of a challenge. Alex M. played Ladahlord, which meant he had a significant amount of of lines and songs to learn. He said “the good thing is I didn’t have much homework during the process, but it was sort of like I had no life during the play.” Joseph A., who played James during the Saturday matinee, said, in regards to the workload of memorizing lines: “We had people like Mrs. Hundley and Mr. Trinh helping us, so it was manageable.” Additionally, “Mr. Trinh, he set up individual rehearsals with each of us to help us learn the songs.” Overall, Joseph A. sums up how many of his classmates were feeling by saying “there were a lot of late nights, but it was worth it, the play was enjoyable.”
All photos by Taylor Dabney.
UPDATED: This article was updated on March 3. Zach Townsend was the Set Design and Construction Manager, not Kate Parthemos, as previously stated. Parthemos designed the costumes.