Prominent changes to the High School Musical Jr. performance present unmatched opportunities for everyone involved

As the production of this spring’s musical High School Musical Jr. progresses, there seems to be one key element theater teacher Robbin Demeester is looking forward to: the show being filmed as a movie. 

Last spring, the theater department was not able to perform their musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and this stunted the normal revenue that shows typically bring in. Due to the smaller budget granted to the theater department this year, they were left with very few options.

Not only that, but the musical would have to be scaled back from its typical multi-set production. 

DeMeester and the school board have worked tirelessly to figure out a way to make this show happen even within the current circumstances.

“When I got together with my own production team here at the high school,” DeMeester said, “I had [done] research and found many smaller musicals. And the guy who is my choreographer and helps with a lot of the directing in musicals, Kyle, said, ‘why don’t we just make a film, and that way we won’t have to worry if something were to happen the week of the show and we couldn’t [perform] it because we’d just have things filmed.’”

Knowing that filming the show would be substantially less expensive and less risky than planning a stage performance, the head of the Forest Hills theater department got on board with the idea, and thankfully, the show will go on. Though the process was agonizing, making sure that a performance would be put on this spring—one way or another—was all that DeMeester had in mind. 

“We [are] just trying to make the best out of a lot of bad situations,” said DeMeester.  

However, one of the challenges with using FHC as the set is the availability of high-demand spaces such as the gym. DeMeester and the cast are willing to be flexible when it comes to that aspect—another benefit to the musical being filmed. 

Not only does this provide financial relief for the theater department because they don’t have to pay for sets, but it is also an exceptional opportunity for the cast to get experience with acting for a film rather than the stage. 

DeMeester is using this as an opportunity to help her students grow and show them new ways of performing.

“Acting for [a] film is very different from acting for stage,” DeMeester said. “I’m excited to see kids grow in that area, especially the ones who have been doing theater for a while and maybe feel pretty comfortable on stage. We’re really challenging their unknowns in terms of exploration of themselves as actors, and I think that’s going to be cool.”

We’re really challenging their unknowns in terms of exploration of themselves as actors, and I think that’s going to be cool.”

— DeMeester

Since this particular musical includes many different types of stereotypes—jocks, thespians, cheerleaders, and brainiacs—character development will play a significant role in bringing this movie to life. 

“Some of the guys that have larger roles as the ‘jocks’ haven’t really done a lot in terms of sports,” DeMeester said. “We’ve talked a lot about what that will look like and how [they] have to change mannerisms: how [they] sit, stand, walk and everything. We’ve talked through that a little bit, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Of course, this year brings new challenges to the forefront of rehearsals and planning. Per the COVID-19 guidelines, rehearsals have been held largely in the auditorium where the cast can be spread out while singing. The musical numbers that can be achieved in smaller groups occur separately, each getting time to work with Sean Ivory, FHC’s choir teacher, on their vocals. 

Despite the unusual circumstances, both DeMeester and the entire cast are determined to make the best of this experience by performing nothing less than their best, and still making cherished memories.

“We [will] have bloopers too, so of course I’m very excited about what those will look like,” DeMeester said. “It’s going to be an absolute train wreck on some days, and we know that. That’s just part of having fun. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of work, but it’s supposed to be [about having] fun, building memories, making friendships, and I think no matter how it all turns out, hopefully [through the] journey, we will be achieving that.” 

Junior Gavin O’Meara, who has been cast in the role of Troy, is also ecstatic about this alternate show format. 

Gavin has participated in many past productions, but High School Musical Jr. is not like any experience he’s had before.

“With the show that we are doing,” Gavin said, “I’m super excited that it’s a film because, to be completely honest, High School Musical is a little bit awkward as a stage performance. It’s not written for the stage.”

Gavin is looking forward to using this film format to help him grow in all aspects of his acting. 

“[Acting in a movie is] way different than acting on stage,” Gavin said. “On stage you have to do everything ten times bigger. I feel like recording for a film will be a huge experience for me to help me grow as an actor, so I can learn the little nuances and stuff that come with film acting.”

Gavin feels that having experience with acting for film under his belt will put him “leaps and bounds ahead of where many people are,” and that the exposure will be a prominent addition to his resume. 

Like DeMeester, Gavin agrees that the goofy memories made in the theater department are unmatched, complete with new faces to the scene and new types of growth. 

“I’m going to be on [the blooper reel] too many times, I already know that.” Gavin said. “The “Get’cha Head In The Game” [song] is literally going to be on [the blooper reel for] like an hour.”

The other lead in High School Musical Jr., Gabriella, was bestowed upon sophomore Megan Fox. Though Megan doesn’t have sufficient acting background, she makes up for it with her dance experience. 

“I thought [my audition] went pretty well,” Megan said. “Especially the first day with the dancing part; I felt like I was going to be a dancer [in the film], but I didn’t think I would get [a part] past there. I was really surprised.” 

The unique sense of community in the theater department proves to be a favorite trait among the cast and crew. Especially with the well-known songs from the popular film, scenes shot in a location like the cafeteria give the cast a sense of euphoria. 

In the show, the entire cast will be involved in singing all of the songs. 

“I feel like getting everyone involved in the scenes is really going to make it,” Megan said.

Being a varsity athlete, Megan has noticed a change in the atmosphere of the theater versus her competitions.

“There are so many people I’ve never talked to before [in the cast],” Megan said. “They’re all just so friendly, too. It’s a totally different environment than playing varsity sports, and it’s just a whole different vibe [that’s] so inviting, and a nice change from the competitive aspect of being in a sport.”