Bullying, gossiping and peer pressure shouldn’t ruin a student’s high school experience. Luckily, Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB) Teacher Patrick Connolly has seen these issues disappear during extracurricular practices, matches, rehearsals and recitals. Now, the Grade 7 English teacher and drama club director is not only helping students make friends, but also perform their experiences onstage.
This weekend, on April 24 and 25, the CISB drama club will stage its own production of the popular Disney musical High School Musical. Connolly and his co-directors – middle and high theater arts teacher Angela Knowles and Grade 9 math and science teacher Jessica MacKenzie – believed the play had a special message.
“The story is about students from different backgrounds and different social ‘cliques’ coming together and finding strength in working toward a common goal,” said Connolly. He added that this unifying theme is especially relevant for drama club participants at an international school, who come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“Our cast is made up of a huge range of individuals from Grade 6 to 11, all with unique interests and skills that they are bringing to our stage," he continued.
“The show sends a positive message about finding common ground among different groups of people," added Knowles. "At the beginning, the students are in very distinct groups or cliques, and don’t really interact with people from other groups. Through their experiences, the students in the show eventually learn that it is okay to try new things, to hang out with new people and to work as a team with other groups. It is a simple message, but one that is very important for middle and high school students as they form friendships and interests.”
“This production is all about different people working together, the stage version even more so than the movie. There are some new character dynamics that are in the stage version of High School Musical that make it seem even more impossible for everyone to get together in the end, but they do," said MacKenzie.
Connolly said the students also benefitted from the production’s rigorous technical demands. High School Musical is CISB’s first musical. Last year, the school mounted a one-act, dialogue-driven play without music or dancing. That earlier production “pales in comparison" to the work involved in a two-act show like High School Musical.
The students had to learn more than 18 songs with choreography and staging, with 10 hours of rehearsals every week on top of academic demands.
That hard work is paying off. MacKenzie says the students are nailing the production’s most difficult scenes, including her favorite plot point that features only in the stage version, not the film version. Titled “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” the scene is a duet between two characters.
“They really understand the meaning of the song, and it really shows in how they sing the lyrics and in their body language as they sing," she said. "As I’m watching, I almost feel uncomfortable because I feel like I’m looking in on this very personal moment.”
Knowles, on her end, said she has been more impressed by the students’ take on another song from the first scene. The song, which is called “Start of Something New,” is an ensemble tune that involves the entire cast singing about their hopes for the start of a new school year.
"I think most of us can relate to the feeling of wanting to strive to be our best, to do something we’ve never done before or to be inspired in our everyday lives. It is a great intro to the show, and it really sets the tone for what’s to come," she said.
Connolly says the students also handle another ensemble song well. He says that “Stick to the Status Quo,” one of the play’s most popular numbers, features each actor, “One by one, (coming) forward to express things that they had previously kept hidden from their peers. A skater-dude plays the cello, a jock loves to bake tiramisu, a brainiac has a passion for hip-hop!”
“Stick to the Status Quo" – one of the musical’s most popular numbers – perhaps encapsulates the play’s most important themes. In it, each student comes forward one-by-one to express what they had previously kept hidden from their peers. For example, a "skater" admits to playing the cello and a "jock" reveals his love for baking.
“It is a powerful moment that shows young people following their hearts and exploring their identities, no matter what others think or say about it," said Connolly.
High School Musical will be performed at CISB’s auditorium on April 24 at 7pm and April 25 at 2pm and 7pm. The musical is two hours long with one intermission. Tickets cost RMB 50 for adults or RMB 20 for students and children, and can be purchased at the school’s front desk. CISB students can also order tickets through their homeroom teacher.
Photos: Courtesy of CISB