Grace Hamilton is a serious, studious senior at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School in Schenectady.
Her personality will change a little this week. Grace, 17, who lives in Berne, will dress up and sing out as Dolly Levi, the vivacious title character in the popular stage play “Hello Dolly!” Actors and actresses from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons will stage the play Wednesday through Saturday at the school.
Hundreds of other Capital Region teens will be on stage or in the wings this fall, as curtains rise on high school productions.
Today, The Daily Gazette profiles three actors and three actresses from six local high school shows. In addition to Hamilton’s take on new best friend Dolly, readers will learn about:
• Amanda Earls of Schalmont High School, playing Flo Owens in “Picnic.”
• Jacob Ettkin of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, playing Fairy King Oberon in “Midsummer/Jersey.”
• Jacqueline Frederick of Ballston Spa High School, playing Molly in “Peter and the Star Catcher.”
• Tony Rubino of Schenectady High School, playing young hospital patient Charter in “Original Short Plays About Tests.”
• Joe Wolken of Duanesburg High School, playing the baker in “Into the Woods Jr.”
On with the show! Actors and actresses at Capital Region high schools are preparing for dramatic and musical entrances this month. Here are six coming shows among the scholastic productions:
• Ballston Spa High School, “Peter and the Star Catcher,” Saturday, Nov. 12 at 1 and 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 19. at 1 and 7 p.m.
• Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, “Midsummer/Jersey,” Friday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 19 at 1 p.m.
• Duanesburg High School, “Into the Woods Jr.,” Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m.
• Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School, “Hello Dolly!” Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m. (free performance), Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
• Schenectady High School, “Original Short Plays About Tests,” Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Nov. 16-18, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.
• Schalmont High School, “Picnic,” Wednesday, Nov. 9 and Thursday, Nov. 10, at 6:30 p.m.
Grace Hamilton, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School
Singing, dancing and acting are all favorites for Grace Hamilton.
The 17-year-old senior at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School will use all her considerable talent Wednesday through Saturday of this week, when “Hello Dolly!” comes to the school auditorium. Hamilton, who lives in Berne, has won the title role.
“She’s just so fun,” Hamilton said of the darling, daring Dolly, the brassy matchmaker and “meddler” who takes New York by storm. Hamilton is thrilled with the wardrobe — she’ll wear the traditional high-neck blouses and full-length skirts popular during the show’s 1890s time period.
The 40-member cast and 20-student crew has been rehearsing since school started in September and, with show dates approaching, weekend rehearsals have been part of the mix. Like other student actors and actresses preparing for school productions, Hamilton is a seasoned veteran. She’s been learning lines and hitting marks since the sixth grade, and has been in seven shows. Her first part was one of the sad girl “tappers” in “Bye, Bye Birdie.”
“We sat on a bench and did a tap number as Conrad Birdie went off to enlist in the Army,” Hamilton said.
The options for double lives are Hamilton’s favorite parts of the acting game. “You get up there and you’re a whole different person,” she said. “You get to sing, and you get to pretend. You’re in circumstances you’d never normally be in.”
A favorite actor is Hugh Jackman — “He’s awesome,” Hamilton said — and there is deep appreciation for Barbra Streisand’s portrayal of Dolly Levi in the 1969 film, a movie the young actress has seen many times. “She was fantastic,” Hamilton said of Barbra. “She just embodied the role, she was larger than life.”
Hamilton will have family support on show nights. Her sister Abigail, a ND-BG freshman, is on the stage crew.
For now, Hamilton is spending part of the day acting and part of the day running. She’s on the cross country team.
As for singing, that can happen any time. And generally does.
“I’m constantly singing,” Hamilton said. “Can’t ever turn that off!”
Tony Rubino, Schenectady High School
Nobody likes spending time in a hospital room.
Tony Rubino will be spend time in both a room and a robe next month. And he’s looking forward to the experience.
Rubino, 14, a sophomore at Schenectady High School, will play a young man with medical issues in the Blue Roses Theatre Company’s upcoming “Original Short Plays About Tests.”
The show will feature 10 short, student-written plays and take place Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 16-19.
Rubino’s scenes will be seen in senior Harmony Thompson’s “Even After It All.” A young girl named Jasmine, played by sophomore Ana Gomez, is dealing with cancer. She’s not comfortable with her hospital surroundings and begins talking with her roomie, Charter. That’s where Rubino comes in.
Tony decided to try acting after watching his sister Nadia succeed in Blue Roses productions.
“She kind of came out with more friends and had a lot of fun with it and had all these great experiences,” Rubino said of Nadia, now a sophomore at The College of Saint Rose. “I was hoping to get something like that, too. She came out smarter, better at making decisions and was better socially, because we’ve both struggled with social anxiety.”
Acting seemed different than diversions friends had found. “I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing,” Rubino said.
Rubino, whose own play “Allegiance” will be performed during the Blue Roses collection, is comfortable on stage. He’s comfortable with the craft.
“The most fun, I think, is you get to be someone entirely different and it just really takes you out of your own reality,” Rubino said. “It’s just something really different. One day, I might be this kid in the ‘60s in the South and the next day I’m an astronaut. It just changes a lot, lots of variations.”
He’s into his new pal, Charter.
“He’s a lot like myself, how I am right now,” Rubino said. “He has this kind of, I guess, somewhat goofy, friendly attitude. He’s very friendly, he’s very optimistic and very goofy. He’s a nice character.”
“Even After It All” has its serious moments. “It’s a drama, but it has points that have comical aspects to it — mainly brought in by my character and how we interact,” Rubino said.
The sophomore likes watching “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” on television. He think he prefers acting on stage rather than acting in studio.
“You don’t get to have that many takes,” Rubino said of live work. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, we messed this take up, let’s do another one.’ It’s like you have to go on stage tonight and do your best and if you make a mistake, you have to make the best of it. I think it’s harder.”
Jacqueline Frederick, Ballston Spa High School
Many children know the story of Peter Pan, his friend Wendy and the magical trip to Neverland.
Jacqueline Frederick says there’s another tale to tell — the story about Peter and an adventure that happened long before he met Wendy and her family.
It’s “Peter and the Star Catcher,” a play that will be presented by the Ballston Spa High School Drama Troupe on Saturday, Nov. 12 and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19, in the high school auditorium. Sophomore Frederick, 15, will play Molly, a young girl who has an adventure with the young Mr. Pan.
Frederick has acting in both school and community productions for the past five years and has 10 productions on her resume.
“My favorite part is just meeting everybody,” she said in an interview last week, just before rehearsal. “You get to meet new friends and express yourself in a neat way.”
Frederick loves her character, and posed in the long gray dress she will wear on show nights. “Molly is 13 years old,” she said. “Her character is very adventurous, funny, outgoing and smart. She’s very determined, she never gives up. She perseveres. She’s also a good person to be around — she’s still finding her way but she knows what she wants and definitely tries to get it.”
Here’s the story: A young orphan and his friends are shipped off from Victorian England to a distant island ruled by an evil king. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk in the captain’s cabin, containing strange cargo. At sea, the boys are discovered by the precocious Molly, who is training to become a “star catcher.” Molly realizes the trunk contains “starstuff,” a powerful celestial substance. When the ship is taken over by pirates, led by the fearsome Black Stache, the journey on high seas becomes a high seas adventure.
Freshman Mira Jaeger will play Peter. There are 18 teenagers in the cast, and five students on the stage crew.
Frederick always feels nervous before the curtain rises, but she loves being on stage.
“I think it’s important in a person’s life to have experiences in front of people,” she said, “and it’s something I really enjoy.”
Frederick also finds time to play lacrosse and take piano lessons, in addition to her dramatic exercises. She loves the play “In the Heights” and after high school, after college, always hopes to have theater in her life.
Joe Wolken, Duanesburg High School
Joe Wolken’s friend the baker isn’t much worried about burning bread or scorching cookies.
He’s much more concerned about the witch who has cursed him.
Wolken hopes it all works out. The 17-year-old Duanesburg High School senior will play the baker in the Duane Players’ version of “Into the Woods Jr.,” which will be held this Friday, Saturday and next Sunday in the Duanesburg auditorium.
The sort-of-confident baking man is one of the main characters in the show. He’s trying to start a family, but the witch has other ideas. To lift the curse, the bread man must collect several items from well-known fairy tale characters to please the wicked woman and set all things to rights.
Wolken, a husky 6-foot-3, will wear a woodsy-looking vest over a white shirt and light brown slacks as the good guy. For a while, he’ll wear an apron.
The baker will have to find a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold for the witch, anong other things, so the search will be on for Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella. A family connection will help — Rapunzel is the baker’s sister.
Wolken said the baker is confident as he discusses plans for victory with his wife, played by Molly Todd. Once on his own, the hero is a bit more nervous about his predicament.
“He’s not really loud like I am,” Wolken said. “I just like stepping into someone else’s shoes for a while, acting as though I’m not Joey but someone else. And the singing parts are pretty fun, too.”
Delanson resident Wolken especially likes the idea of having two identities on play nights, and showing people how different he can be from his usual self.
“While I’m putting myself into this character, I’m also being someone else at the same time, showing people how I can change from myself to somebody else,” he said.
Wolken appeared in last fall’s show, “Bye, Bye Birdie” as Harry MacAfee, father of big Conrad Birdie fan Kim MacAfee. He likes both the artistic and athletic stages; he’s president of the school’s drama club and choir, and co-president of the student council. During the spring sports season, he competes in shot put and discus events for the Duanesburg track team.
For next year, Wolken is considering the state universities at Oswego and Stony Brook and the University of Delaware. “A big factor of the colleges I’m going to is how many different theater things they have, clubs and stuff,” he said, “as well as my major, secondary education.”
Amanda Earls, Schalmont High School
Flo Owens has had a tough life.
She’s a single mother, abandoned by her husband.
She’s raising two teenage daughters in the 1950s southern Midwest. And now she’s worried her oldest girl is about to repeat Mother’s mistakes.
Amanda Earls will bring Flo Owens to life next week, as the Schalmont Drama Club presents “Picnic,” the play written by William Inge. Earls, 17, a senior who lives in Rotterdam, is ready for the challenge. There will be scenes full of angst, crying and screaming.
“I just try to think about times in my life where I’ve felt really upset, even if it’s a completely different situation, and think, ‘That’s how Flo feels right now’ and try to express that,” Earls said.
The Schalmont shows will be held Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 9 and 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. Earls knows the stage well; she’s been in shows for the past four years, and has made appearances in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Hairspray” and “A View From the Bridge,” among other productions. For last spring’s “Best of Broadway 2 — A Musical and Theater Celebration,” Earls played Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Cosette in “Les Misérables” and June in “Chicago.”
Earls feels nervous before every show. She believes the trick is to channel those feelings into energy.
“That tends to be the one thing that’s the most important on stage,” she said. “My director will say, ‘If you forget a line, that’s no big deal, but if you don’t go on with energy, that’s what you really need.’”
Earls has been preparing for dramatic moments by running lines every night. “During the day, I think about different ways I can say different lines or watching other actors’ performances, seeing how they did it and how I would like to do it in comparison,” she said.
Earls’ favorite stage actors are Adam Pascal and Kristin Chenoweth. She loves what dramatic exercises can do for young people — expressing their feelings through the lens of another person.
“I think it really gives us an outlet to discover more things about ourselves and get a better understanding of human experience in general,” Earls said. “I know that just from learning so much about characters and coupling that with the interest I have in psychology, I can understand where more people come from — like whenever someone’s talking about whether they’re different from me, I can compare it to more situations, I have more of a background. It’s kind of like reading gives you different experiences. It’s like hands-on reading, almost.”
Earls plays mellophone and French horn in Schalmont musical groups. She hopes to study both psychology and theater in college, and hopes to continue work on stage.
“I’d always like to have it in my life,” she said.
Jacob Ettkin, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School
Jacob Ettkin is ready to get into character.
He’s going to be flamboyant. He’s going to be regal. He’s going to be pompous.
And maybe a little bit sarcastic.
Ettkin, a 17-year-old senior at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, will play Fairy King Oberon in the school’s upcoming production of “Midsummer/Jersey,” a modern day version of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” set in New Jersey.
The play will be staged Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 19.
Ettkin is used to rehearsals and opening nights. He started his scholastic acting career as a second grader, winning roles in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Theater for Children. At Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Ettkin’s parts have included the dentist Mr. Dussel in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the purser on a cruise ship that was the setting for “Anything Goes,” Joseph’s brother Dan in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and gangster Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls.” He was also the producer in the student-run production of “The Crucible” and next spring will direct “The Great Gatsby.”
He thought about sports, but decided he’d rather be involved in the creation of art rather than competition.
The latest challenge as Oberon will allow Ettkin to put a little bit of his personality into the part. “I hope I’m not as pompous, but I can be sarcastic,” Ettkin said. “I use a lot of ironic humor.”
Like other actors, Ettkin gets butterflies on show nights. Everyone’s a little nervous.
“It’s just a roller coaster of emotions, stage fright is a real and valid thing,” Ettkin said. “Over the course of the show, you work your way through it. You just kind of go with the flow and have fun doing it.”
Every actor and actress has strengths, and Ettkin believes one of his dramatic powers is to help his brother and sister players with their performances. It might be developing friendships with them off stage — for better chemistry on stage — or maybe improvising lines to help them better find their characters. Everything helps when the curtain rises.
Ettkin hopes to continue his dramatic exercises in college, and hopes to study psychology. A minor in drama is a possibility.
For now, Ettkin is in a regal mood. He’s practicing both the king’s speech — and a Jersey accent.
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