Lights, Cameras, ACTION! PlayPro Hosts Original Play During Joy Block

DramaFEST is an annual competition where students from schools around Massachusetts compete to perform plays. The best performers move on to the next round. Some schools choose to write their own plays, while others perform more famous shows. Following tradition, Malden High School wrote its own play for the competition. 

Written by the Intro to Theatre class, Malden High’s Play Production (PlayPro) class performed The STEPmother. They competed on March 5th, and although Malden High was not able to move on to the next round, the students were nonetheless proud of their performance. Hence, on March 14th, the students did a second rendition of The STEPmother during Joy Block, for Malden High School students and faculty to watch.

On the day of the show, PlayPro Advisor Leanne DeRosa introduced the cast and the show. She reminded the students to stay quiet during the performance and hyped up the cast before stepping off to let the show commence.

The lights brightened as the first members of the cast started the show. The stage, once lit, showed a room full of stepmothers from Disney, sitting around, drinking wine, and chatting about their step children. The banner in the background proclaimed “Step Mothers; Sister Hood” with a half wall and door to show the two sections of the stage.

An argumentative group from the start, they debated what makes someone a stepmother. Mother Gothel of Tangled, played by Stephanie Wong, declared them all old-fashioned; she had never been married but was still a stepmother figure to Rapunzel.

As the stepmothers talked, a new face appeared. Portrayed by Addison McWayne, a confused mother looking for a step dancing class for mothers wandered into the room and introduced herself as Janet. Despite her mistake, she stayed in the room, acting as a mediator for the stepmothers.

Step Children narrowly avoid being caught. NATHAN DEAN
Kurt (Brian Vences) sneaks around during the stepmothers meeting. NATHAN DEAN

While the stepmothers continued to berate their children, the kids wandered into the room adjacent, trying to listen in on their conversation. They had a few close calls, though. The Other Mother from Coraline, cast as Sophie Leblanc, opened the door into the other room after she heard the children talking, but luckily the kids were able to hide in time. Yet another close call, Brian Vences, playing Kurt from the Sound of Music, fell into the room and had to hide behind chairs and bookcases to stay out of sight. As he rolled under the wine table, he hid as quietly as time would allow.

Meredith Blake (Emma Spignese-Smolinsky) laughs drunkenly at something one of the stepmothers says. NATHAN DEAN

Janet had her own soliloquy, where she described how her stepchildren seemed to love their mother over her and refuse to listen. This brings her closer to the other stepmothers, as they agree and chant “Children suck!!” At this point, Kurt is caught, as he accidentally flips the table. In his attempt to escape, though, he allows the rest of the stepchildren to get caught. Emma Spignese-Smolinsky, cast as Natasha Richardson from “Parent Trap”, was relieved that her own children did not show up. That is, until Natalie Keating and Emmalyn Woods, her children, showed up behind her and scared her.

Four of the seven dwarves spilled into the room, and Snow White reached her breaking point, where she and the Evil Queen argued. The Evil Queen, played by Olivia Descilien, swore to be kind to Snow White, but kept her fingers crossed behind her back with no intention of keeping that promise.

Next was Rapunzel to interrogate her stepmother. Played by Penelope Buckingham, she told Mother Gothel all of the disdain she had built up towards her. The two settled their disagreements with the compromise of a new sketchbook for Rapunzel.

One by one, the children and their stepmothers resolved their issues.

The story resolved peacefully as Janet’s own stepchildren, played by Mak and Darian O’Brien, tumbled into the room as well, and declared their love for her. The stepmothers, stepchildren, and crowd alike cheered as they all filed out of the room, and the lights dimmed again.

Janet (played by Addison McWayne) bonds with her children, Tyler (left; Mak O’Brien) and Taylor (right; Darien O’Brien). NATHAN DEAN

For a play of this depth, it took a while to prepare. The first step was simply writing the play, which is a tedious step in itself. Even while the PlayPro cast was working on The Beauty and the Beast for their fall show, the Introduction to Theatre class was working away at building the plot, script, and cast for their original play. After months of hard work, they finally had a script. Starting in October, Intro to Theatre worked relentlessly to get the play completed. 

To build the script, the first step is to decide what the students want to talk about. Since a majority of the audience is students, both at FEST and during Joy Block, they wanted something that would be relatable. “We started talking about what teenagers want to say to other teenagers… and out of that came something about self-discovery,” DeRosa explained.

Directed by Buckingham, she was able to lead the Intro to Theatre program into finishing their script as something they all wanted to talk about. She ended up doing “99.8% of the directing work” while DeRosa took a step back.

While DeRosa is confident in the play they wrote, one thing she would change would be to make the show cater more towards the judges, instead of the audience, “which sucks because then it’s about winning and it’s not about making art.”

The work did not end there, though: once the script was finalized, the casting process began. Every member of the cast had to audition to get their role, run by DeRosa. She worked diligently to make sure everyone had a position that fit them. “I never look back at a show and say ‘I shouldn’t have cast that person’, because I think, no matter what, there’s growth in whatever performance you put out there,” DeRosa enunciated. “I had faith in everybody; I was worried that people wouldn’t have faith in themselves.”

Unfortunately, during FEST, several cast members contracted COVID and tested positive for it the next few days. Because of this, there were a few cast changes between then and the performance during FLEX block. Namely, Marie Chen took over Marianne Rivadeniera’s role of Briggita from the Sound of Music, and Buckingham replaced Saia Hussain as Rapunzel. The rest of the casting stayed the same between FEST and the Joy Block performance.

Not only was the cast given their roles, but the tech team was given their roles as well. The tech team is crucial to making sure the play runs smoothly. From lights, to props, to costumes, to sets, the tech team controls nearly every aspect of the play.

Tech/Crew team list. ZACHARY NEDELL

At FEST, the crew only has five minutes to set up before the play has to start. “There’s this very choreographed transition that happens to get our set on stage.” As such, it is crucial that the tech team is as rehearsed as the cast, if not more. 

Looking back at FEST, the PlayPro class knows what they need to improve on, and are excited for another chance next year. For now, though, they have their spring play to work on…

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