The Stage Door Project: To Kill a Mockingbird

One eagerly anticipated highlight of Geva’s season this year is our upcoming production of To Kill a Mockingbird. As one of the many ways in which we are choosing to involve the Rochester community in this production, we have invited high school students and educators from Rochester’s own School of the Arts (SOTA) to participate in The Stage Door Project: To Kill a Mockingbird. In the past, we’ve collaborated with other local Rochester-area schools in Stage Door: Our Town, Stage Door: Almost Maine, and, most recently, in last year’s Stage Door: Little Shop of Horrors, with Rush-Henrietta Senior High School.

Continuing Geva’s mission of placing our stage work at the crossroads of artistic excellence and community engagement, the Stage Door Project is one of the most unique education programs Geva offers for emerging young artists. It is the first program of its kind in the United States and has been the recipient of much national attention throughout the theatre industry. The Stage Door Project gives area high schools students a rare opportunity to explore the process of crafting a theatrical production, from start to finish, through an immersive partnership with a nationally recognized regional theatre. It offers an unparalleled professional experience that fosters a deeper understanding of dramatic literature, the theatre industry, career avenues, and the journey of bringing a story to life on the stage.

To Kill a Mockingbird, in addition to being part of Geva’s season, is also part of SOTA’s theatre season. SOTA’s directing team, headed by Lorie Dengler Dewey, has cast roughly 22 young actors, and recruited over a dozen students focusing on design, production, and marketing, to join a creative team that mirrors Geva’s. Dewey is also serving as Assistant Director to Mark Cuddy (Geva’s Artistic Director and the Director of Geva’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird), where she frequently participates in Geva’s Mockingbird rehearsals.

Fueled by her work at Geva, Dewey has been rehearsing and directing her students in their own production of To Kill a Mockingbird back at school. The young actors from the SOTA company have participated in several acting workshops with Geva artists, as well as an ongoing, several-month-long mentoring partnership with these same artists. They have had multiple encounters with their professional counterparts from the Geva production including attending our company-wide Meet and Greet (followed by Geva’s first rehearsal of Mockingbird and accompanying table work discussions), becoming email pen pals with their counterparts, observing Geva’s rehearsals several times a week, sharing character insights over dinner with the Geva company, and – in the coming week – they will attend tech, preview, and performances of Geva’s Mockingbird. The student cast has received audio files from the Geva production’s Dialect Coach to help them get acquainted with the Alabama dialect, and a stage combat master class and fight choreography session for the student cast has been scheduled with Geva Fight Choreographer. Some of Geva’s Mockingbird cast members will also have the opportunity to visit student rehearsals at SOTA in early March.

Christian Hurdle (playing Tom Robinson in the Stage Door production of Mockingbird) shares a meal over character conversation with Lorenzo Shawn Parnell, who plays Tom Robinson in Geva’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The production and design students – focused on lighting, sound, scenic, costumes/wardrobe, props, stage management, and dramaturgy – have met with their professional counterparts on multiple occasions to share their ideas with Geva’s design team, tour the shops, shadow the department they are reflecting, attend several production meetings, technical rehearsals and one-on-one sessions, and to participate – to varying degrees – in the build and creation of Geva’s production, as well as their own.

SOTA’s stage management students have helped Geva’s stage mangers tape out the rehearsal hall floor and ready actor packets in preparation for the start of our Mockingbird rehearsals in late January. The dramaturgy student met with our Geva’s dramaturg and Literary Director Jenni Werner to learn what a dramaturg does, how to create a dramaturgical packet, and he presented a dramaturgical presentation to the student cast. The props students are learning how to create period newspapers that will be used onstage in the SOTA performance. The scenic students and technical theatre classes at SOTA helped build the leaves and roses that adorn Geva’s To Kill a Mockingbird set. The sound students shadowed Sound Designer Dan Roach during tech for Miracle on South Division Street so they could get a head start on Mockingbird. And the costume and wardrobe students, in addition to working with their own costume designer at SOTA to design, find, and build costumes for the Stage Door performance of Mockingbird, have attended professional costume fittings at Geva, shadowed in the wardrobe department, and learned how to distress new clothing items to look old and dingy. They will also be making their very own ham costume for their one-night-only production!

Hillarie Shockley, of Geva’s props department, works with Stage Door props students Katherine Fuss and Maggie Enderle on the specifics of creating a period newspaper. In the background, other Stage Door prop and scenic students from SOTA (Avi Fischer-Wachspress, Emmett Lewis-McKinze, and Gianni Barbero) learn how to craft leaves and roses for the set from Geva Prop Master Mark Bissonnette

Additionally, the scenic, costume, sound, lighting, and props students have been tasked with creating designs for an upcoming SOTA production of Urinetown, under the mentorship of their professional design counterparts at Geva, who are helping them grown to a better understanding of what design is, the process of crafting designs based on a director’s vision and concept, the relationship between a director and designer, how to work collaboratively in a design team to imagine and realize a cohesive production, and how to showcase their design ideas through renderings, models, etc.

Geva’s marketing staff has been in frequent correspondence with the SOTA marketing team (comprised of SOTA staff, as well as two student graphic designers and one student photographer), who are focusing their efforts on poster design, playbill creation, publicity, social media, and community engagement efforts so that SOTA can share their discoveries within their own community as well. Geva’s marketing staff has also visited media and design classes at SOTA for in-class presentations.

An early draft of the graphic design for the Stage Door Project poster, created by SOTA marketing and graphic design students Yolanda Santana and Juan Collazo

This unique collaboration will culminate when the students return to Geva to polish their show, working with our professional crew to incorporate Geva’s existing lighting, sound, and scenic elements created for our own Mockingbird production, into their production. The students will then perform their own version of To Kill a Mockingbird on the Geva Wilson Stage, with Geva’s full technical support. For these students, the Stage Door Project is an incredibly thrilling and extremely rare opportunity to directly connect, over and over again, with a nationally recognized regional theatre and to learn firsthand from a professional in the theatre industry, who does just what they’d love to do one day! By embracing this young company from our community, we receive an unforgettable, priceless experience, and the privilege of learning with – and from – the students’ energy and insights into the world of Mockingbird.

The Stage Door: To Kill a Mockingbird performance is on Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 at 7:30pm.

Tickets for this open-to-the-public performance are $16 and can be purchased through the box office. Tickets are available online (click here), over the phone, or in person. Advance purchase for this one-night-only event is highly recommended.

The Stage Door Project: To Kill a Mockingbird is supported in part by the Guido and Ellen Palma Foundation.

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