When in high school, I always looked forward to the spring musical. The drama and music departments would combine their talents and hold auditions, casting and rehearsals culminating in the performance. So I was glad for the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look as the Mount Hope Masqueraders prepare for this month’s production of Beauty and the Beast at Mount Hope High School.
At a rehearsal in April, the students were excited to be in costume for the first time, embracing their characters as director and drama teacher Carol Schlink set the scene for some costumed poses, applauded by the ensemble cast.
Ava Callery, a senior from Bristol, demonstrated her stunning vocals and acting abilities as she rehearsed the song “Provincial Life,” while the ensemble practiced the choreography and simultaneously sang “Belle.” There was lots of energy and enthusiasm on display.
As Schlink reset the stage, I sat down with some of the cast, including Tom Hanson (The Beast), Alex O’Hanley (Lumiere), Michelle Cardoza (Chip), Samantha Egge (The Wardrobe), John Hunt (D’Argue), Ava Mascena (Mrs. Potts), Jameson Moore (Gaston) and C. J. Gerhard (Cogswell). My first task was to find out what grade each student was in. As is sometime par for the course, the leads Callery, Hanson and Egge are seniors, while the others are juniors. However, Gerhard is a freshman doing his first show with the school and plans to attend Governor School for the Arts, in Virginia, when he is a junior.
When I asked the seniors in the group how they felt about performing in their last show at the school. Callery was quick to respond, “I will burst into tears.” Mascena, though a junior, echoed her sentiments by saying, “Most of us have been performing together since sixth grade.” Hansen and Hunt added, “It will be hard to say goodbye.”
Some of the students plan to continue studying theater or music when they move on to college. Callery has applied to Rhode Island College, Columbia in Chicago and Emerson. She has been accepted to both RIC and Columbia and is still waiting to hear from Emerson. Hansen and Hunt plan on studying music and Egge has been accepted to seven out of the nine colleges she has applied to and has also performed with Barker Players and Barrington Community Theatre.
All of them agree that they are close-knit group, and Callery is quick to mention Makalea Impagliazzo, who was not present but also has a leading role as feather duster Bette, while Egge praised the hard work of Meaghan Barros, a junior and the production stage manager, for keeping them in line. The camaraderie was also evident onstage as they rehearsed “Be Our Guest.”
Of course, guidance from a good educator and director is also necessary, and several students in the ensemble bestow much praise on Ms. Schlink. Victoria Ezikovah says, “She works one on one with us.” Nicole Rodrigues and Michela Nerney concur, “She teaches us people skills and how to get things done.” They explain at the end of the year, the group will host what they call the “Schlinky Awards.”
Schlink, like her students, started in high school theater. In addition to teaching, she is also an actress and has performed with Second Story Theater, Rhode Island Shakespeare Company and Barker Players. Schlink says, “They are good kids, very talented kids, hardworking and enthusiastic.”
They produce two main stage productions, a play in the fall and the big spring musical at the end of the year. The fall show is cast from the acting class while the musical is open to music students. Auditions were held in January with rehearsals beginning in February along with those for the State Drama Festival. Schlink explains the rehearsal process is three pronged with vocal rehearsals, dancing rehearsals and acting rehearsals. She says, “I want to teach students to respect the art form of theater.” At this rehearsal, It is clear that she has that not only instilled respect for the theater art form but has also garnered that same respect.
Performances of Beauty and the Beast are Thursday, May 3 through Sunday, May 5. For tickets call 401-254-5980 ext. 3163.