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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Wither of the Arts: Declining Interest in the WIS Theater Program

Bryn Soven
Blank Alice by Heart poster.

The Upper School theater program has encountered many obstacles over the past decade, but there has consistently been a reasonable amount of interest in the musicals and plays, as seen by the stellar productions put on year after year. However, this year, in particular, interest in auditioning for the 2023 fall musical, Alice by Heart, was surprisingly lacking. By Aug. 31, the initial final day for auditions, there were merely nine students who signed up for auditions, a stark contrast with the previous year, in which 19 people signed up for the first week.


“We definitely had a drop-off,” senior and stage manager Martina Tognato Guáqueta said. Tognato Guáqueta has been involved in WIS theater productions since 8th grade.


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After the audition dates were extended, more people signed up, totaling at 20 auditions. Tognato Guáqueta cites a variety of reasons for the decline in auditions.“[For] seniors, unless your heart’s really, really in it, it’s such a busy time,” Tognato Guáqueta said. “Especially college application season, and that’s the height of rehearsals.” She further articulates the technical troubles that actors and crew members experienced during last year’s musical, Heathers, notably issues with microphones and volume for the track, may have had an impact on interest this year. Ultimately due to the insufficient sound system and lack of assistance, the track for Heathers was played by a Bluetooth speaker. 


Many other students remarked on the sudden absence of interest. “Given that a lot of people don’t know [Alice by Heart], and a lot of people have prior commitments to sports, and after a big hassle like Heathers– it was harder to get people on to the show,” sophomore and actor Leo Naftulin said. 


Rehearsal schedules are intense. Actors are expected to memorize lines and lyrics on their own time so that rehearsal time is as productive as possible. Choreography rehearsals go as late as 7 p.m. on school days, and regular rehearsals usually end at 6 p.m. As opening night gets closer, Sunday rehearsals and half-day rehearsals also start to show up on actors’ schedules, often lasting four hours. The weekend before opening night, students spend seven to eight hours at school rehearsing. The week of opening night, rehearsals end at 7 p.m. earliest, sometimes lasting until 8 or 9 p.m.. Hence, some students, specifically college application-burdened seniors, may not be able to fit rehearsals into their jam-packed schedules.


When asked about how she decided upon Alice by Heart as the 2023 fall musical, Upper School theater director Kerri Rambow said, “I don’t know. There’s no set way that [the musical] comes about.” 


“[When no one signed up for Alice by Heart] We had some talk about changing the show to a much smaller show,” Munt said. “We considered Ride the Cyclone, because of the small cast. But you have to pick something that’s flexible enough that if kids sign up, they can actually have a part in the show.” 


The WIS theater program does not aim in any way to be lackluster or juvenile. “I like a high level of quality in productions,” Munt said. “I don’t feel that just because the students are high school aged, that they shouldn’t be excellent. Rambow and I share this belief, this mindset, that we really want to put on high-quality productions, and still have fun and a good time. The students benefit in areas of self-confidence and in growing their skills and experience by being pushed to be their best”.


When asked if this intensity may create some feelings of anxiety or tension amongst students, Munt said, “There’s very open communication between the cast, Rambow and myself. Where it does maybe overwhelm certain students, we always try to accommodate. We want it to be an enjoyable experience, but you can’t put on a good show if you spend your rehearsals screwing off.” 


“It’s tough love,” Tognato Guáqueta says. “Not everybody is built for tough love.”


Despite the lack of interest, the outlooks for the fall musical are favorable. The theater program aims to create a familial environment for students, where they can be themselves. The “all in it together” frame of mind is addicting, and keeps students coming back each year. “This is your home, almost,” Tognato Guáqueta said.


While previous years required a certain degree of tenacity from the actors and the crew, most are optimistic about this year’s prospects given the addition of a new technical director. “I think the technical director is going to be a pivotal element of this show, in terms of running smoothly,” Tognato Guáqueta said. “A new technical director will definitely buffer a lot of the stress that drove a lot of people out of the show.”


Students and teachers are encouraged by the directors, cast, and crew to come see the shows. According to Munt, student interest and student attendance is the best way to support the theater program, and is consistently, thanks to the hard work of the cast, crew and directors, an enjoyable experience. 


By Bryn Soven

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