Exciting Changes to the Theatre Program
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Theatre has been a big part of the Westerly High School curriculum, but in the last few years, it has been on hiatus. A new year has brought multiple changes to the school, including a new principal and new direction for the theatre program.
In the early 1980’s and 90’s, WHS had a flourishing theatre program. Every year, the school would perform large shows such as Les Miserables, Hello, Dolly!, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. After Music Director David DeAngelis Jr. retired, shows diminished.
In recent years, a local theatre company has directed WHS productions such as Grease: School Edition, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and the Sondheim classic, Into The Woods. Unfortunately, the theatre program did not see the growth and development many had hoped for.
This year, New York actors Jon L. Peacock and Alana Rader from The Colonial Theatre have partnered with Westerly Public Schools to revive the theatre program at WHS. The Colonial Theatre, known for their Shakespeare in the Park productions every summer, took a break from their annual production and ran a one week summer camp for students in Wilcox Park, concentrating on bringing the arts back to the Westerly school district.
Alana Rader has had a great deal of acting experience, performing all over the United States in plays and musicals. She is also a musician and VoiceOver artist. Rader said, “I’m currently based in Brooklyn, but am originally from rural Pennsylvania. I am also a company member of PWF Theatre and an associated artist of the New Circle Theatre Company in NYC, both of which concentrate on the development of new works.”
Rader owns a rescue Pekingese named Peanut Butter and is a third generation trumpet player. Some of her favorite roles include Louise in Gypsy, Sonya in Uncle Vanya, and Desdemona in Othello. She hopes that the Theatre Program will be integrated into the curriculum and continue to produce mainstage productions each year. Rader said she would also like to get students involved in playwriting and technical theatre.
When asked what she looked forward to the most while teaching theatre in Westerly, Rader responded, “I’m looking forward to growing our theatre program and helping Westerly’s students express themselves and strengthen their communication skills, while cultivating empathy for one another. You don’t need prior experience to do theatre,” she said. She also encouraged students to reach out to them if they have any questions or simply want to observe a class.
Jon Peacock said he and Alana are very excited to bring theatre back to WHS. “I really look forward to seeing the amazing talent of our students come together to share, express, and grow as artists,” Peacock said. “This new program is just forming, so we can make it whatever we want together.”
He continued, “There’s a reason why in theatre they’re called ‘plays,’ because playing and exploring are the foundations of theatre! We are dedicated to creating a judgement-free, safe place to have fun, make bold choices, and stretch yourself as an artist,” said Peacock.
This program represents a fresh start for WHS, so much effort will be needed to make it a success. Peacock said they hope to offer theatre classes each semester in the future. “We definitely want to have a pre-professional theatre program established in the near future to further the collaboration between The Colonial Theatre and WHS,” he said.
“Having worked in Westerly for two summers, I got to know some of the creative community here, and have been blessed to feel so welcome in this wonderful town,” said Peacock. “When I learned I could help further The Colonial Theatre’s mission to expand arts in the Westerly area, I jumped on board to give back to a community that has already given so much to me.”
This semester, Peacock and Rader are directing an after-school program in Babcock Auditorium, where WHS students are currently rehearsing for the play Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder. The play will be performed Friday, December 7th through Sunday, December 9th.
Rader and Peacock are also planning on directing a musical this Spring, and will be teaching a theatre class during the school day next semester. In that class, Rader and Peacock plan on “reading some contemporary and classical plays, as well as diving into scene work and script analysis. It’s going to be a very exciting class!” said Peacock
A new school year is a great time for positive change. Westerly High School is fortunate to benefit from the talents of Peacock, Rader, and The Colonial Theatre. Rader said, “Theatre has power to transport, and more importantly, to evoke change. We believe in the Colonial’s mission to help educate students through Theatre. Westerly is also a beautiful town and everyone has made us feel very welcome,” she said.