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FHC Theatre’s Student Director Emily Toppen’s childhood love for theatre prompts her to continue her passion at Michigan State University

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“My favorite part is the people,” she said, as her pupils grew with passion. “It’s my fellow peers and students who I’ve seen grow throughout the shows or the people who we bring in and leave here as contacts, and it’s the exposure to the community and the building of such a large friendship circle.”

Senior Emily Toppen currently serves FHC’s theater program as the Student Director and Stage Manager. The sole purpose of her leadership role is to help Managing Director and Artistic Director/Producer Robbin DeMeester, as well as anyone else on the production team.

“I help them with whatever they need,” Emily said. “I’m their bridge between them and the kids. I help run rehearsals, and I help students with whatever they need. When we cast shows, I am there beginning from day one until the end.”

Before Emily was in high school, she performed plays with Lowell Arts when she was younger. She also participated in Odyssey of the Mind in elementary school, as it created a creative outlet for her, as she also liked creating her own performances. After taking a theater course her freshmen year and participating in auditions, Emily realized she wanted to be a part of the production of Beauty and the Beast, leading her to work in beauty backstage.

During the production of Little Shop of Horrors, Emily will be backstage with a headset on and view all activity of the musical from several different screens so when light cues, sound cues, or objects move on and off stage, Emily will direct, controlling the speed and flow of the show. Her job is to make sure everyone is organized and that the show is moving fluently

I think there’s something magical about a show when you’re sitting in the audience because you have an hour to which you don’t have to think about everything going on in you life. There are people who come to our shows who might be on their first date or are going through something hard at home. I think it’s really magical that the show gets to give them something to leave feeling happier about.”

— Emily Toppen

Beginning as a freshman, Emily described DeMeester as someone to “take [her] under her wing,” as she did not feel as if she had a lot of confidence when entering high school. Emily continues to go on saying she was trying to find her place but found her niche when she began training within the theater program.

“I’ve matured,” Emily said, “because I’ve been in the position where I’ve felt like a student to my peers and their boss at other times. Casting has played a big role in my position, like telling a student they did not get into a show and then having to know that I was a part of that decision-making process in the end. It’s definitely been weird, but I’ve picked up leadership skills and new friendships.”

When Emily first entered high school, she believed FHC’s theater program was built up really well, making it a great experience to step into. However, she believes it has changed as people weaved in and out of the program and how they have impacted it. The program is built up more as people talk about past shows, and it will continue to grow when Assistant Student Director Kaley Kaminski is handed the torch as Student Director in her senior year.”

“I am very motivated for next year because will have Emily’s position of Student Director,” Kaley said. “It has shown me that hard work really pays off, and it’s fun to see how much fun she is having doing, so I know I will have a lot of fun do it as well.”

Emily and Kaley share a similar role; however, Emily has a “higher power” within the programs.

“Emily is incredibly hard working, and she truly cares for every member of the cast and crew, as well as all the of the adult staff members,” Kaley said. “She is the older sister that I have never had. Our friendship goes beyond on our relationship within the theater. Emily is always willing to help me in everything I do.”

Kaley commented that she would have had a lesser experience if it was not for Emily within the program, too. The two girls worked to create a strong between each other, further helping them be successful as a team.

“We can lean on each other when times are tough,” Kaley said. “My relationship with Emily goes far behind our work, which has been my experience so much more enjoyable.”

Next year, Emily plans to attend Michigan State University and will major in theater, as she will study the dramaturgy and directing, and she will be assistant directing shows as a freshman.

Emily continues to go on as to why theater stands out amongst other programs at FHC.

“Unlike a team where they have several competitions over the year or season, theater has three shows and that’s it,” Emily said. “With eight to nine weeks of work put into a show, it’s very high speed. Of course, we have to be more selective sometimes with the program, but the amount of people that come weaving through the program through the season is really cool, especially since our seasons lasts from June to May.”

As a leader with the program, Emily is “always in the spotlight,” meaning she feels the pressure to be a good role model for others, meaning she must earn high grades, always have homework complete, stay out of trouble, prepare for tests, and “always be prepared [on her tiptoes].”

Being an insider, Emily is aware of how much work is put into each production, further expanding her appreciation for the theater program. For example, according to Emily, many students are unaware that FHC has its own scene shop.

“That’s something that goes on backstage that people won’t see from the audience’s perspective, and they can’t see how much work the crew and production team does, especially,” Emily said. “Making sure the postcards go out, hanging up posters, making sure we have t-shirts for everyone, and concessions are all things that contribute to the amount of work that is constantly happening.”

Emily believes that the upcoming musical, Little Shop of Horrors, will be one of the best.

“I was a little timid going into my senior year because I wanted to make sure that this musical was just as great, if not [better] than The Little Mermaid,” Emily said. “It was such a fantastic show for my junior year and I wanted to make sure that our senior class had such a great show this year.”

With the level the kids are performing now before the production of Little Shop of Horrors, the music itself, and the props being brought in, Emily thinks that it will give The Little Mermaid a “run for its money.”

Emily describes everyone involved within theater as “bubbly, fun, and nice.” Furthermore, she mentioned her little sister, freshman Susan Toppen, being involved in this spring’s production of Little Shop of Horrors and her commendation on students being “joyous” and “full of energy and life.” Emily believes that the people within the theater program want to make others happy with the upcoming show.

“I think my inspiration in theater is definitely the people,” Emily said. “I think there’s something magical about a show when you’re sitting in the audience because you have an hour to which you don’t have to think about everything going on in your life. There are people who come to our shows who might be on their first date or are going through something hard at home. I think it’s really magical that the show gets to give them something to leave feeling happier about. The energy in the room is really powerful.”

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FHC Theatre’s Student Director Emily Toppen’s childhood love for theatre prompts her to continue her passion at Michigan State University