The applause from the crowd erupted as the final scene of The Little Mermaid came to a close. The musical last year marked Robbin DeMeester’s 50th performance as the managing director for FHC. Her entire family met her on stage with open arms, congratulating her on the successful journey. She has been the heart and soul of the theatre program for many years, but there is so much more to the story of the tradition than what can be seen on stage.
FHC’s theatre program is famous for quality, sold out performances. This year will be no different. The team has selected a play called Murders In The Heir, a murder mystery that should add excitement and variety to the shows of the past. Kyle Black, the artistic director for the show and a graduate of FHC, wanted to do something outside-the-box for the fall to get things rolling. The play features something that the program has never seen before: an interaction with the audience. The viewers will essentially pick how the play will end by voting at intermission for who they believe the killer is. There is no right or wrong answer, and the play has several interchangeable endings. This new element presents a whole new challenge for the cast.
“I thought we’d do something different,” Black said. “We look at the shows that we’ve done in the past and we try to change it up from year to year.”
Black also recognizes how this will impact the people involved and their workload.
“It’s going to be a little bit more challenging for the actors,” he said. “It’s a different form of creativity that we just have to look at because each play is its own element, and this play is a different aspect of that element.”
Finding the right people is essential to the life of the play. DeMeester has been in the driver’s seat for many years and has a vision for finding and developing young talent. She does this every year in order to achieve the perfect cast for each show. This process of hand-picking a cast can prove to be very difficult.
“I always feel super bad for the people who don’t get chosen,” DeMeester said. “That is really hard for me. And that’s life. I get it.”
DeMeester is not alone in this selection process; she is accompanied by Black and even senior Emily Toppen, the student director. Emily is the one who is in contact with the actors most frequently of the three, answering questions and carrying some of the weight so DeMeester and Black can maintain their focus mostly on the show itself. Being in such frequent contact around her peers and then seeing some of them not make it would normally cause some problems for the student director, but Emily knows exactly how to handle it.
“Some people take it very personally,” Emily said, “but every little personal thing that I have with someone is left at the door. It’s just something that you have to learn and be able to handle and grow up in a lot of ways.”
The three of them combine their efforts and make up a fantastic team that continuously discusses with each other.
“We have such a collaborative team,” Black said. “No one of us has all of the right answers, but we are all open to each other’s suggestions, and then we bring them all to the table. If we are coming at it from three different perspectives, then we can analyze each one and come up with the best direction to take.”
The three of them spend countless hours together each day, creating the perfect concoction of creativity. Emily Toppen spends almost her entire day at the high school on Mondays and Tuesdays. She juggles the stress of managing the play and participating in the improv team, while also being a drum major for FHC’s marching band. DeMeester values Emily’s unmatched willingness to become a part of each endeavour, and without her, the program would not be the same.
“She’s my right hand woman,” DeMeester said. “The thing that I respect most about Emily is how she’s always super kind to all of the people that she works with.”
Emily’s time-consuming schedule comes with a lot of benefits. She gets to know all sorts of different people and develop her people and leadership skills. However, this involvement also comes with a lot of drawbacks. The hours that Emily spends away from home means that she misses out on the family aspect of her life.
“I really miss my family,” Emily said, “As weird as that sounds, I really don’t see my family. I do miss home cooked meals, sitting at the dinner table, and I miss my dog so much.”
Being alongside each other so frequently, the three have created a bond that will surely stand the test of time. DeMeester has impacted Emily’s life on many more levels than just theatre.
“She is basically my second mom,” Emily said. “I spend more time here at the school than I do at home. She helps take care of me, making sure I’m staying on top of my school work. I don’t think I would be the person that I am today without her in my life.”
Emily is not alone in feeling such a positive impact from being with DeMeester. Over time, the seasoned director has impacted countless other people in their time being a part of the program.
“It does create a bond that is inexplicable,” DeMeester said. “For me, kids will move on and they go on and do different things, but certain ones that I latch onto or stay involved in the theatre, they become part of my life with my personal family.”
Black was one of those kids that DeMeester grabbed a hold of. During his senior year, DeMeester was hired as the new director with only two weeks to go before school began. Black was a lead role in the musical that year, and DeMeester pushed him harder than he had ever gone before. She saw something in him that she knew was special, and she was right. Black would go on to college and stay involved in theatre.
He was directing a play for FHE a few years back when he received a phone call from DeMeester. She was about to begin the musical that Black had played the lead role in as a senior, and she wanted him to help. Since then, the two have been working together at FHC.
“We just had this great relationship,” Black said. “This collaborative effort. We are like each other’s better halves artistically. It’s like a dynamic duo of a team.”