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Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Maya Bhat

Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Maya Bhat

By Anya Shukla, RSP Marketing Intern

Stage managers are the glue that holds a show together. In charge of making sure the process runs smoothly, the RSP stage managers work nonstop—coming into a five hour rehearsal an hour early, leaving an hour late—to make sure that West Side Story is flawless. Maya Bhat, the Production Stage Manager, has been working as a stage manager for five years and is well-versed with the hard work ethic and assertive leadership necessary to run a tight rehearsal room. Describing her job as “a mix of housekeeping and bossing people around,” if any issues come up during rehearsal, Maya must deal with them on the fly while still maintaining order. I talked to Maya about her job, as well as some stressful moments and how RSP has taught her to deal with them.

What’s your favorite song in West Side Story?

Okay, this is really hard. I think I have to go with “Gee Officer Krupke,” just because I love the choreography. But it’s hard for me to pick a favorite.

Do you think you’ll be a stage manager later in life?

I don’t think so. I think part of what I love about stage managing is that there’s a magic onstage with theater. I worry that the glamour of it goes away when it becomes a job. It’s something that’s so fascinating and magical right now, and I don’t want to ruin it. 

Is there anything you’re looking forward to?

I’m really excited for us to move upstairs from DAT5, the rehearsal studio, to the theater. Because this is really professional stuff that we’re doing, we’re on The 5th Avenue Theatre’s stage. Calling a show at The 5th—that’s crazy. How many people can say that they’ve done that? But, tech rehearsals is my most stressful time. 

Why is it so stressful?

It’s when my part comes in. Since I’m calling the show, I’m going to be dictating when all the tech elements happen. The actors have all learned their show and tech is when I have to learn my part for the performances. This is my turn to practice and I have a lot shorter time period to do so, so there’s pressure to learn everything quickly. And the days are long—10 hours—with no breaks. 

What exactly does “calling the show” mean?

During the show, anytime there is anything technical involved—a light cue, a set cue, anything involving the rails—I have to call that. I’ll be sitting stage right, and I’m watching. So when I say “lights down,” I’m telling the person on the lightboard that the lights need to change. Anytime there’s a technical element, I have to tell them it’ll happen. So that’s why it’s so stressful. Obviously if it’s a light cue and it’s a second or two wrong, the audience isn’t going to notice, but I’m going to notice. So I have to make sure everything goes well. It’s a lot. I’m excited, but it’s a lot.

What was the hardest moment of this process?

Two weeks ago, we had a rehearsal where we were working notes. We just had a run-through of one act, and we were going through and working certain scenes. We were jumping all over the place, and it was just one very hectic day where we didn’t have a schedule. I felt that I had no idea what was going on, the actors had no idea what was going on. I completely failed that day: the rooms where chaos; we were missing people; it was a mess. I talked with my mentors after and they gave me a lot of good advice: about how to take charge, how to take a second to establish what you know. We had two or three more days like that, but they weren’t hectic. I figured out what I needed to do, how to work with things that I don’t know. I just had to move on. It was a bad day, but I kept going. 

And that’s related to what you do during performances: if you call a cue wrong, you have to be able to move on.

Yeah. My favorite thing that the professional stage manager said was: “At the end of the day, it’s just a play. The world’s not going to end if you call a light cue late. It’s not a big deal.” We’re not perfect. You just have to be okay with making mistakes and learning from them. Things go wrong in theater every single second. Nothing ever perfect. You just have to move on and make something out of nothing. 

Rising Star Project: West Side Story runs July 12-13. Click here for tickets and info. 

Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.

Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Frances Vonada

Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Frances Vonada

By Anya Shukla, RSP Marketing Intern

West Side Story is known for its music. Without student music directors, our RSP production would be without iconic numbers like “I Feel Pretty” and “America.” A music director, someone who teaches a show’s music to the cast, is a vital, yet often overlooked part of the creative team. Music directors focus on telling the story through song, and RSP students work diligently with Julia Thornton, the Head Music Director, to do just that. I met with Assistant Music Director Frances Vonada to learn more about music directing and her RSP experience.

What’s your favorite song in West Side Story?

Oh, that’s so hard! I love the “Tonight Quintet.” It’s just so powerful, and it’s great to have everyone onstage. But “Gee, Officer Krupke” is also hilarious.

Could you describe your job?

Music direction for a musical is super important, because music is so integral to the structure of the show. A music director has to think about the show, think about the story. So it’s as much learning notes as it is examining the characters–examining the character’s objectives and tactics, how they’re singing this song to get where they want to be. 

Does the music director work with the director and choreographer to tell the story?

As a part of the creative team, it’s the music directors’ job to direct the overall vision of the show and support the main director. We convey the same amount of story through the music as the director does in a scene and the choreographer displays through movement, so we’re all just working together to convey one cohesive story and one cohesive message. 

Have you done any music directing before?

It’s completely new. I’ve done theater before at my school, but I’d done very little outside of that, and I’ve never done any kind of work as a music director. All of this has been a steep learning curve, because I’m working with adults and kids who’ve done this before. But overall, I’ve learned a ton.

What has your favorite part of the process been so far?

I think the character work is very interesting. Just sitting in with Julia and sometimes in the one-on-one music sessions, talking through a character, talking through their motivations and who they are, that’s been really fascinating. 

Has there been anything unexpected?

The speed at which we’ve worked has been crazy. I’m used to working with the timeline of fourteen, sixteen weeks of rehearsal, but we’re doing a full show in six weeks. It’s the intensity and the focus that we’re working with that has surprised me. 

Could you speak to the mentor-mentee relationship in RSP?

Julia Thorton is the music direction mentor and she has been so incredibly helpful. She’s always been clear and communicative with Tony and me. But then beyond the show, she’s given me a whole lot of advice about college. And she’s also invited me to sit in on some other rehearsals that’s she’s working on.

Are you interested in music direction as a career?

Yes. I think it’s scary, because my parents don’t have any experience in the arts. But I’ve given a lot of thought to what this would actually look like as a career. 

And since this is your first time as a music director, do you think RSP has shaped that decision?

Definitely. A year ago, I didn’t even know what a music director would do. And this has given me a lot of insight into what a rehearsal process actually looks like and how a production works. I haven’t had a ton of experience in other theaters, so just being able to see how The 5th puts on a show and how they direct has been really great. 

Rising Star Project: West Side Story runs July 12-13. Click here for tickets and info. 

Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.

Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Alia Antón

Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Alia Antón

By Anya Shukla, RSP Marketing Intern

Some Rising Star Project cast members have been in musicals since elementary school, but this is Alia Antón’s first professional show. But that doesn’t mean Alia, who plays Maria, isn’t ready to take on the challenge. Although she had always thought of herself as a mezzo-soprano, when offered her role in December, Alia was faced with a character whose voice sat several steps higher than she was comfortable singing. However, for the past six months, she has been working with a special voice teacher to access that upper register. Her work has paid off: at the most recent run-through, she appeared a natural soprano, with no apparent stress about hitting the high C. I sat down with Alia to get her take on Maria and RSP in general.

What’s your favorite song in West Side Story?

I love all of them so much, but I think “Somewhere.” I really like the hopefulness of it, how Tony and Maria are seeing what could be. Plus it’s just beautiful music.

What brought you to RSP?

The biggest reason for me was the experience. I just wanted the experience of what it’s like to be in such a professional setting and have that responsibility. Because high school theater is amazing, but this is just on such a different level. So I really just wanted to learn as much as I can, and I have. I’ve learned so much. It’s only been a couple months and I feel so many things have just clicked for me. 

I know you do some character work as part of rehearsal. Could you describe what you’ve discovered through that?

Maria’s so strong. Oh my gosh. West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, but Maria doesn’t do what Juliet does at the end of the show, and I think that’s just one example of how strong she is. And in her songs and her notes–they’re such beautiful long lines of melody–but because they’re so high you have to have core strength. So in the music itself it’s written that she has this beautiful outlook on life, but she also has inner strength. 

What’s the hardest moment been?

Getting out of my head. Especially in the beginning, it was just: “okay what’s my next line, where am I supposed to cross, I need to get this right.” And then it wasn’t authentic; it wasn’t honest: it was robotic. When they told us to really listen to each other, that’s when it switched. Then it wasn’t that we were playing parts, but that we were telling this story. And also the music and the singing–I think that’s been really hard: finding a singing voice that I’ve never used before and being confident in it. I find myself every now and then thinking, “That note is hard. Am I going to hit it?” But I have to believe that I can do it, because if I hesitate, it won’t be there. I just have to tell myself: “I can do this.” 

If you had to choose one thing, what would your favorite part of the process be?

The community. Everyone’s working together with this goal: to tell the story as truthfully and honestly as possible, which I think is amazing. I love a good day off, because it’s a taxing show, but sometimes days off are hard for me because I just want to see everyone and work on the show. Especially because it’s going so fast: I just want as much time with everyone and everything as I can. 

Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself during RSP?

I just need to be open to everything. Everything can be a learning experience. Things aren’t going to happen the way I think they’re going to happen, but that’s okay. 

Rising Star Project: West Side Story runs July 12-13. Click here for tickets and info. 

Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.


Rising Star Project Puts Theater in the Hands of Youth

Rising Star Project Puts Theater in the Hands of Youth

By Anya Shukla, RSP Marketing Intern

This summer, nearly 100 high school students from all over Washington State will convene at The 5thAvenue Theatre for Rising Star Project: West Side StoryWest Side Story, the awe-inspiring musical, beloved by many, reimagines Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the context of gang violence and racial prejudice. Although created 50 years ago, West Side Story is still as impressive, vibrant, and influential as ever; this Rising Star Project production of West Side Story makes the show new again.

This special production is part of The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Rising Star Project, a program that places musical theater in the hands of tomorrow’s artists, innovators, and leaders. Rising Star Project allows teenagers to develop professional skills by producing and performing a musical on The 5th’s mainstage. Students will remount The 5th’s professional production of West Side Story (playing May 31 – June 23, 2019), created by an all-student cast and crew, as well as students working in producing, development, marketing, and casting departments, with guidance and mentorship from The 5th’s staff.

Rising Star Project helps every young person achieve a fulfilling career, a stronger sense of self, and confidence in their ability to inspire positive change in the world. The Rising Star Project strives to take a proactive role in creating a theater community which is inclusive and representative of our region; provide students with direct mentorship from working theater professionals, introducing them to the diversity of viable careers in the theater industry; create a collaborative and authentic learning environment in regard to professional practices and expectations; connect students to American musicals not only as vehicles for self-expression, but also as significant artistic achievements, rich texts, and unique expressions of our nation’s history and heritage; and support classroom learning by providing quality arts-based education experiences for students—both at The 5th and in-residence throughout the community and in areas where opportunities for arts education are limited.

With quintessential score and choreography, West Side Story brings a relevancy to musical theater, coupling artistry with a reexamination of bias and stereotyping. The production, remounted entirely by students, makes the storytelling even more special. Audiences will watch a cast of dedicated high schoolers perform this iconic and sweeping tale with all the grace, passion, and quality of its mainstage counterpart. These students are only two weeks away from beginning rehearsals, while the arts admin and creative teams have already begun their work over the past few months. Soon, The 5th Avenue Theatre will be filled with teenage laughter, chatter, and excitement as youth prepare to make this expansive show a success.

Rising Star Project: West Side Story runs July 12-13. Click here for tickets and info. 

Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.

Something’s Coming…

Something’s Coming…

We recently sat down with four of this year’s students to ask them questions about musical theater, West Side Story and their hopes for Rising Star Project’s seventh year…


Since October, teens from across our region have been coming to The 5th after school and on weekends to learn about theater careers and train with professional mentors. The group of more than ninety-five young people will ultimately mount their own production of West Side Story in July – taking on roles not only on stage but on the technical crew, in the costume and wardrobe and hair and makeup departments, in the orchestra—as well as in marketing, development, producing, stage management, artistic leadership, and casting.

We recently sat down with four of this year’s students to ask them questions about musical theater, West Side Story and their hopes for Rising Star Project’s seventh year…

What do you think is about to happen?

Oanh (Stage Crew, sophomore at Rainier Beach High School) is the first to break the ice. “A hundred teenagers scuttling about the theater? Trying not trip over seats and cords? It’s basically going to be like at school – probably… but more organized? Since it’s professional! But I haven’t worked at a professional theater before, so I can’t make that kind of assumption.”

The group laughs, realizing this is truly the first time that any of them will take part in a production of this scale.

What are your Rising Star Project teammates going to be learning about you in the coming weeks?

Jackson (Tony, junior at Mount Rainier High School): “Well—before I got into theater I was the ‘sports guy.’ I did football, baseball, tennis, soccer, swimming, gymnastics. I did all these sports, like: ‘I’m an athlete and I’m going to play football and baseball be in the Hall of Fame of both!’ But my parents actually met singing in a choir and my dad has done theater his whole life and my mom has always sung. When my sister started getting into choirs and theaters, I thought it seemed interesting and my parents would tell me “Oh, you have a voice – but you’re just so shy…” so I started singing in choir with my sister to see if I could gain more confidence. And then I started doing some shows… Until, when I was in middle school—and I had to choose between a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or football. I decided that I wouldn’t do football – that I’d try to audition. And I got a role. I think that role was when I was like, ‘I really like this…more than sports.’ That was a definitive moment for me. Now everything is theater and music.”

Oanh: First, I’m on the stage crew and I’m interested in lighting… but ironically I’m afraid of heights–so it’s difficult for me to be on the catwalk. And second, my eyes are really sensitive to lights. But I guess I really enjoy pushing buttons. My main role at school is as a Technical Director, which is more about telling people to push buttons instead of actually pushing the buttons. But I enjoy pushing the buttons, too. It’s a lot of fun. And I’m enticed by all of the fancy equipment that they have here [at The 5th].

Diego (Arts Administration: Community Engagement, senior at Ballard High School): Over the course of high school, I’ve gotten more and more involved with community organizing. I love theater, but negotiating the two spaces and going back and forth can be difficult at times. So part of what I’ve been trying ask myself over the past couple of years is—how do I make it so that when I come from a community organizing space into a theater space I still feel the same energy and I don’t feel like the two are in conflict with each other? And how do we bring the ideas from one into the other? What are the ways that the people around us have made art for generation and generations and generations and have made it equitably and ethically and beautifully? I think theater is another form of organizing the community around something – around an idea and around action.

Alia (Maria, senior at Skyline High School): When I was in kindergarten, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s eleven years in remission now—which is great—but during this experience, I learned that time is so fleeting and you never know what’s going to happen… As cliché as that sounds. But my family really instilled in me that I should do what I really want to do with my life—again, because you never really know what’s going to happen.  I started doing theater for fun. But over the past few years, I started to get more serious about it and realized that theater does have an impact. And I’m not at an operating table or working as a nurse, but I could still have the power to affect people and maybe save lives. You can help someone laugh or smile… Or, with a show like West Side Story, you have the opportunity to reach out and open their mind to a point of view that is new to them. 

Rising Star Project production of West Side Story runs July 12-13. For more information, visit www.5thavenue.org.

Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.