Lancer Letter: Cats continued — The recent show, Old Deuteronomy and the superintendent’s experiences

Category:  News
Friday, November 22nd, 2019 at 11:14 AM
Lancer Letter: Cats continued — The recent show, Old Deuteronomy and the superintendent’s experiences by Richard Scaletta | General McLane School District Superintendent

My life as a Cat.

Last week I gave the background to the musical, “Cats,” which is being performed this weekend at the high school. By now, most people know that I was cast in a role for the show (more like conscripted). There are several reasons the directors thought this was a good idea. Symbolically, the role of Old Deuteronomy is similar to my “day job.” Old Deuteronomy is the leader of the cat clan known as the Jellicle Cats.

Like me in the school district, he’s been around the longest. The younger cats give him great respect and look to him for wisdom and to make the most important decision of the year — which cat gets to be reborn. The young cats in the school district certainly wait for me to make another decision — whether to delay or cancel school!

The students who would have been able to play this role have larger parts as young cats. What teenager wants to be an old, slow cat when you can be a young and more nimble cat?

The other twist to this plot is knowing that in my first year teaching choral music at General McLane, I had a certain senior named Trisha Boylan. Now Trisha Yates, I worked under her direction for this show. It is always a beautiful thing when the student becomes the teacher. Ultimately, it is the fondest desire for an educator.

It’s been 31 years since I’ve taught music, and my participation in this production gave me the opportunity to see how things have changed. I thought readers would be interested to hear what I’ve learned.

Like every other aspect of life, technology is a game-changer, now even in a Broadway production. Our district utilizes a learning management system for teachers and students to exchange work electronically. Bruce Yates uses this technology to full advantage in a way I never imagined.
There is no book of music to hold in your hand as I did in my younger years. Music is only available electronically. There are also recordings of the music as well as videos. Students now come into rehearsal with their music memorized and having a good visual representation of the choreography and staging. To help with rehearsing the music on your own, there is an app you can download that allows you to practice the music as often as necessary. You can also use the app to take certain voices or instruments out of the recording so you can focus on and learn your part.

Back in my day, you spent many, many hours learning the music in the choir room. That now takes place individually. You would spend many hours learning choreography. That still takes place, but is accelerated by student actors having somewhat of a visual representation from watching videos. Technology has really allowed for the focus of a production to be on the work done as an ensemble.

Another aspect changed by technology is placement of the orchestra. “Cats” was the first Broadway musical that had the orchestra play from another room, not in front of the stage as had been the norm. With all the electronic sound equipment now available and being cheaper than in 1983, high schools are now able to put the orchestra in another room.

This cast of student actors for the show is incredibly talented. Those who see the show will be amazed by the singing they hear and the dancing they see. What I’ve witnessed is even more amazing. These students don’t rehearse like high school aged students. They rehearse like seasoned professionals. They’re not as distracted as one may think. They can go through a five hour rehearsal without their phones!
Unlike this old cat, the students learn very quickly. They’re told where to go or what move to make and they do it. They retain their instructions well (me, not so much — apologies to the patient directors).

While many things have changed in the last 30 years in regard to how a musical is produced, there is one thing that has not changed. Musical theater, while entertaining, also touches a part of us that helps us transcend our daily commonplace existence. It touches us in a way that words alone cannot. It stretches us to consider some of life’s great questions. The experience is ineffable.

One night after a long rehearsal, one of the lead actors was assuring me that we were in a good place and that after all the time and work, it would be a great experience. I told him that my experience as an audience member at a Broadway musical is here (pointing halfway up the wall), but the experience of being in the show is there (pointing to the ceiling). He responded, “That’s why I do it every year.”

That says it all.

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