Last month, a group of students at Dartmouth High School competed in the National Performing Arts Festival at Disney World. During school vacation week, the students were hard at work in a classroom at the near-empty school, putting the final touches on the play they’d been rehearsing since last September.
This was to be the group’s first time in the competition. They weren’t required to perform a Disney work, but these kids chose “Alice in Wonderland.” They prepared a 20-minute version of the classic play.Shirley Guerreiro is co-Director of the Dartmouth High School Theater Company. She attended the Festival last year as a teacher observer. When she got home, she talked up the idea of Dartmouth High competing, and had no trouble finding interested students. Then came the task of raising money for the Florida trip this year.
“We did some car washes, we did some chocolate sales, Yankee Candle fundraisers, we did a trip to Foxwoods, we did a trip to New York City around Christmastime, so we’ve been fundraising a little bit every month since last year,” said Guerreiro.
Eight high school groups from around the country competed this year. Each had their work critiqued by the judges, many of whom are working industry pros.
Sophomore Raquel Fererro plays the title role of Alice. “Shirley’s done an amazing job with the cast and getting everything together,” said Ferrero, “and Julie, the choreographer – great dance moves. We are going to rock it in Disney.”
Julie Regan choreographed the production. She usually works with much younger children, and this was her first time choreographing for a high school group.
“It took a long time for me to get my head around what I was gonna do with them, but I really like the way it’s turned out. I was nervous coming into this, working with high school kids that aren’t that much younger than me,” Regan said.
According to Shirley Guerreiro, the combination of dancing, singing and acting has helped many of these kids get over their shyness. “Sometimes kids are afraid to be who they are. But when you get to pretend to be someone else, it helps you to just express yourself and brings you out of your shell,” she said.
Sophomore Meghan Tansci plays The King of Hearts. On this day, with just a few run-throughs left, she said the cast is tying up loose ends to make the production as tight as possible.
“It’s pretty intense,” commented Tansci, “I mean, at first, we were having fun. Now, we’re trying to get more down to the point. We’re getting even more serious.”
Choreographer Julie Regan and Director Shirley Guirerro were upbeat, even as they both fought off last-minute jitters.
“I think we’re more nervous that they are,” Regan laughed. Guerreiro agreed. “Yeah, honestly, because we’ve seen how it’s evolved since September, and now this is the last stage of it, and we’re getting ready to leave in a couple of days, so it’s…anxious, you know, starting to lose a couple of hours of sleep every night. But that’s just normal, because you’re excited. It’s just those butterflies that you normally get as a performer.”
A few days after this rehearsal, the group headed to Orlando for the National Performing Arts Festival competition. Though they didn’t win either of the top awards, two of the students did receive Outstanding Performance trophies. The group will perform “Alice in Wonderland” at Dartmouth High School on Sunday, March 23rd.