Every spring, tulips and lilacs bloom in home gardens. There’s another sign of the season — budding actors and actresses appear on high school stages.
Plays, which also are held during the fall, can be highlights of the school year. Students learn lines and makeup techniques. When the curtain rises, kids who know geometry and geography also know drama and comedy.
In 1977, Dave Van Court and John Thomaszewski got the chance to dress up in the colorful costumes of “Godspell” for Linton High School’s late autumn play. The show, from the 1971 off-Broadway musical, featured a musical series of parables taken primarily from the Gospel of Saint Matthew.
The Linton actors and actresses received boffo reviews from a weekend audience of 1,800. The response was enough for school officials to give the teens a second weekend on stage; in 1977, the extension was only the second in school history.
At St. Columba’s High School, a religious comedy was on the boards in 1967. “The Complaining Angel” starred Maryanne Malecki, Donna Beloin, Phyllis Cox, Mary Hartshorne, Lynn Rielly, Maureen O’Connor, David Connelly and Thom Morrette. The students knew all about habits and wimples, traditional clothing worn by nuns; the “Angel” play was a sequel to St. Columba’s 1966 production, “Seven Nuns at Las Vegas.”
Hartshorne was a junior when she became “Sister Ann” during the winter of 1967.
“One of the things I remember was this particular nun had this huge — it was almost like a purse,” said Hartshorne, 58, an ultrasonographer at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.
“She was showing the sister superior, trying to find something in her purse and was pulling out all kinds of things . . . and my purse is the same way to this day.”
Hartshorne, who lives on Mariaville Lake, likes the way school plays unite young people.
“You get people together who don’t necessarily spend time together,” she said. “You put them in a total different venue and they become friends on a different level. So it seems to me, after all these years, that’s kind of kept us together, things like that we remember.”
In 1974, Schalmont High School student Amie Guyette got the chance to panic in “Night Watch.” She played Elaine Wheeler, a rich widow who is recovering from a nervous breakdown. Staring out the window, she witnesses a murder and pleads for people to believe her.
Students in the show thought their work was not only a theatrical experience, but also presented a message to society. The actors noted that two murders were part of the action, “and we feel that this, as well as many other things, represent society’s degeneration of attitudes toward violence.”
The entertainment was reasonably priced: adult theater fans paid $2, students paid $1.50 and children under 12 were admitted for $1.
Former Niskayuna High School actor Ward Dales, who appeared as Tony Kirby in his school’s 1980 production of “You Can’t Take It With You,” also has fond memories of his teenage acting days. He says participation in plays can save some kids’ emotional lives.
“Kids who have alternative views or lifestyles can feel depression and rejection,” he said. “When you’re validated as an artist in such a family-like, communal experience, it can give people a reason to hold it together.”
Dales, 43, who lives in Defreestville, remains a strong player in local performing arts. He has acted and directed in community theater productions and teaches playwriting and a college-level performing arts course at Albany High School.
Dales is also theatrical director at Albany High, and last week directed young actors in the school’s production of “Pippin.”
Here’s another reminder to thespians of the past: The Gazette’s photo archives are loaded with negatives from past high school productions. An encore on the newspaper’s history page is always possible.
Categories: Life and Arts