The Willistonian, Est. 1881

Williston Scholars Shine on Stage

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Williston Scholars Shine on Stage

Credit: Williston Facebook.

Credit: Williston Facebook.

Credit: Williston Facebook.

Credit: Williston Facebook.

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Haley Beecher cried over lost love. Josh Holmberg smashed some emotionally charged jars. Harrison Winrow wore fishnets and Kevin O’Sullivan tried to sell books. Seven seniors in the Williston Scholars Performing Arts class showcased their final projects on February 25, the eve of assessment week, exhibiting the culmination of their original work in the trimester-long course.

The students performed Variety Hour, a compilation of the students’ individual projects as part of the Williston Scholars Performing Arts Class, held in the winter trimester. The hour-long performance was followed by questions from the audience.

The Williston Scholars Performing Arts class has been a class option for juniors and seniors for three years. The class is co-taught by Emily Ditkovski, Director of the Williston Theatre, and Charles Rafetto, Theatre Production and Facilities manager.

“The broad goal is for students to create a performing arts project in their chosen discipline that reflects both their personal values and the time in which we live,” said Ditkovski.

The students pursue an independent project on anything performing arts related: dance, playwriting and performance, music, comedy or even production management. After a long process and trimester, they perform. Three dancers, Kassandra Orcutt ’19, Triniti Slaughter ’18, and A’kayla Williams ’18 will wait until the spring to debut their pieces.

“I absolutely love teaching this class,” Ditkovski said. “I am inspired every day by the bravery and brilliance of our students to unabashedly be themselves and tackle huge themes in their work.”

Students worked in the genres of theatre (playwriting and performing), dance, standup comedy, sketch comedy, music, and stage managing. Some students come into the class already having their projects fully formed and others come in with a vague concept.

The class talks about who they are as student artists and what they want to convey, setting calendars and checkpoints for their performance. “It’s fantastic experience for becoming a working artist because we are exercising both the artistic and organizational brain at the same time,” said Ditkovski.

Harrison Winrow ‘18, who wrote and performed a short act, commented on the artistic freedom of the class as well as the difficult and technical work required to create a performance. “The structure employed by Emily Ditkovski and Charles Raffetto gave the members of the class a taste of professional theater and the demands of such a career,” he said.

Harrison was constantly editing and changing his script. He talked about the difficulty of creating an original work alone. “There came a point in the production process where the entire class could agree, ‘this is not fun anymore’. Emily warned us of this hole, and reminded us that this is when our focus and effort matters most,” he said.

According to Ditkovski, there are no typical classes in WSPA, but they do have three general types: production meetings, progress reports, and work days. The grading is based on a series of benchmarks, not “talent.”

Risa Tapanes, a senior in the class, loved her experience. “Williston Scholars Performing Arts is a great opportunity for juniors and seniors wanting to pursue a career in the arts to launch themselves into an intensive work environment centered around their personal craft,” she said. “I joined to not only build my skills, but my resume as well, and to be academically credited for what I would usually do after school.”

Risa plans to attend college for stage management and believed this class would simulate what a college course would be like. Risa’s discipline is unconventional for the class but she has played a crucial role in helping the students with their performances.

Even though Risa has stage managed many large theatre and dance productions at Williston, immersed herself in tech theater and even acted, she says this project is “slightly new territory.” “When I’ve stage managed school productions in the past, I’ve worked with a full professional production team and a solidified script,” she said. “Building new works with emerging artists is something I truly believe in and am glad to work on, even if it’s tremendously more difficult than a typical show.”

Seniors Elise Dunn and Kevin O’Sullivan both took the class to work on comedy. Kevin wrote and directed video sketches, while Elise did standup. Before the show, they both said they were nervous but excited. “I’m hoping that there will be a lot of laughs,” said Kevin. “It’s been a long process and I’m hoping it’ll all be worth it and be funny.”

Both Kevin and Elise talked about the feedback and help they received and how important it was to the success of their project. “The teachers and other students in the class are so helpful because they each have a unique perspective from which to give feedback on my work,” Elise said.

Tori Zingarelli ’18 premiered some music from her original album with videos of her singing. She is grateful for the opportunity to devote a class to work on what she is most passionate about.

“Ms. Ditkovski and Charles give us advice and the tools we need to succeed while preparing us for the industries that we are looking to pursue,” she said. “The time and effort these faculty members put into helping the student succeed and be their best selves whether it is through music, acting or dance, is so refreshing.”

The students and teachers were most excited for the performance.

“Everyone has seen the artists from the class on stage at a typical Williston show, but here they will have written, choreographed, blocked, and designed every aspect of their own piece,” said Risa. “I think it’s important to recognize that there is much more to a show than what you see on stage, which I think everyone has learned throughout this trimester.”

Ditkovski said the most rewarding part is during the performance when the hard work pays off. “Our audiences are always moved by the projects and amazed that the work was created by high school students,” she said.

“The cumulative performance at the end was a thing of beauty,” said Harrison. “Being able to see the work all of my fellow Williston Scholars fall into place was a lasting symbol of our blood, sweat, and tears.”

Lila Schaefer, a sophomore who attended, was impressed with the original work. “I thought it was very creative,” she said. “It was a really great way to see a different side of some of the students involved. I really admired the way they stepped out of their comfort zones and worked so hard to produce something that was so entertaining to watch.”

“[The performance is] the time where the artists themselves can feel validated,” said Ditkovski. “Creating original work is so challenging and there is always the moment in the project when you think you can’t do it. Watching our students see not only that they can do it, but they did it and have work to be proud of, is absolutely the best.”

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Sophia Schaefer '18, Managing Editor

Sophia is a six-year senior from Northampton, MA. She likes to play lacrosse and talk to her sister in a funny voice.

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Williston Scholars Shine on Stage