Class of 2021: ‘Charlie Brown’ helped save senior year for these Amsterdam students

Amsterdam High School seniors Melody Valberg, left, Cameron Goehrig, Lucas Sarabia and Billie Bennett pose on May 14 at the school.
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Amsterdam High School seniors Melody Valberg, left, Cameron Goehrig, Lucas Sarabia and Billie Bennett pose on May 14 at the school.

The pandemic briefly disrupted those plans in Bennett’s junior year when students were abruptly forced to learn remotely for the duration of the spring and extracurricular activities and events were suddenly cancelled.

When school reopened in the fall under a hybrid attendance model, seniors were excited to return to some normalcy after seeing the previous graduating class depart without the usual pomp and circumstance celebrating the end of their high school careers.

After the spring 2020 drama club production of “Newsies” was canceled amidst the pandemic, students were elated when the school put on a production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” in December.

The production was staged as a live radio show with a limited cast allowing students to maintain social distancing during performances and was live-streamed online for families to watch from home.

Senior Alyssa Rosa had always wanted to join the drama club, but nerves kept her from auditioning. Still, she was determined to step out of her comfort zone and take a chance.

“I knew this was my last chance,” Rosa said.

She was cast as a foley artist who created the sounds of the radio drama. Rosa recalls the magic moment she felt trying on her costume from that production.

“Everyone was so happy to see me,” Rosa said. “It felt like family.”

On the heels of that success, drama club advisor Chris Stefani decided to kick things up a notch with a spring production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” featuring a double cast each giving two livestreamed performances in May.

Likewise, Bennett knew it was her last chance to join a drama club production and found herself cast in the role of Schroeder the young pianist.

Despite the absence of an audience, the experience was exactly as she hoped.

“I’m so glad I got to do it,” Bennett said. “I wish I had done it earlier.”

Chatting while striking the set in the high school auditorium in the days after the spring play closed, senior cast and crew members said they had a blast.

“This year was really special,” Melody Valberg said.

After participating in drama club for all four years of high school, Valberg said this year’s performances without an in-person audience were just as impactful as past experiences.

“We’re the first group that was able to perform in front of a camera,” Valbarg said, expressing excitement over family members from outside of Amsterdam having the chance to see her perform live for the first time as she portrayed Sally Brown.

The whole cast and crew could sense a shift as the cameras began to roll during their first performance.

“The first time we went live, when we started to record, everyone got a lot more serious,” said Lucas Sarabia, who served as the light designer for the show.

The absence of an audience created an intimate feeling, according to Stefani. And the actors still had a cheering section as cast members from the opposite performance nights filled out the auditorium to root on their fellow thespians.

“There was a huge feeling of camaraderie,” Stefani said.

The easing of state coronavirus protocols allowed the mask-clad cast members to move a bit more freely around the stage in the spring.

In the final performance of his high school career, Cameron Goehrig decided to go all out in the role of Snoopy, at one point leaping from his doghouse with gusto. The impromptu action resulted in a comical spill when he didn’t quite stick the landing.

“I made it a little extra,” Goehrig said. “It was hilarious.”

After participating in drama club throughout high school, a hectic senior year schedule got in the way of auditioning for Seth Cislo who still wanted to be involved one last time. He lent a hand as a camera operator and got to see the show come together after his classmates had put in weeks of rehearsals.

More Class of 2021: Profiles of region’s top graduates

“I saw all the people I grew up with do their last high school show,” Cislo said. “It was very emotional. I’m a little upset I didn’t try out, but I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”

Whether they participated in drama club before or came to it for the first time this year, each of the seniors expressed gratitude for the final opportunity.

The final months of high school have even returned to a nearly normal state with seniors happily attending classes in-person full-time after spending much of the year under the hybrid attendance model.

“I get to see all of my friends and I’m having a lot of fun,” Bennett said.

Joining the school play allowed percussionist Noah Britton to break out his kit once more after the pandemic halted marching band earlier in the year and put a hold on band performances.

“I got to do what I love, playing music,” Britton said. “It was amazing, I got to play the drums every day.”

After more than a year of uncertainty, school administrators have organized important annual events to ensure seniors experience the parting high school memories they’ve long anticipated. The students were looking forward to performing in a final concert, attending one last dance and crossing the stage during graduation.

“It’s probably been the best year,” said Rosa, who served as a camera operator on the spring production. “I wouldn’t have asked for anything different.”

Each of the graduating seniors plan to make the arts a part of their lives in some capacity in the future and pointed to the experience of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” as solidifying that decision.

Heading to Syracuse University in the fall to study physics, Sarabia also plans to be involved in theater. Goehrig will begin his first semester studying to become a history professor through Liberty University learning remotely and plans to help out the high school drama club next year.

Bennett is headed for Fulton-Montgomery Community College to study fine arts where she plans to dabble more in the theater and other creative fields to choose a major before heading to a four-year school. Entering the honors program at the University of Tampa, Valberg has not settled on a major but knows she wants to be in a creative field where she can help others. She plans to continue performing in college.

Rosa similarly feels a creative calling and plans to take a year off before enrolling at FMCC after settling on a path possibly in film, theater, fashion design or painting. Britton plans to learn how to give creative cuts at Paul Mitchell the School while continuing to pursue music.

Cislo is headed for Hartwick College to study biochemistry where he plans to also participate in drama or an a capella group. After all, Cislo said, joining the high school drama club helped him stay on track academically and gave him lifelong friendships.

“I’m sorry to leave, but I’m excited to see what life has to offer,” Cislo said.

More Class of 2021: Profiles of region’s top graduates

Categories: Class of 2021, Life and Arts

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