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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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Revolting children

ETHS’ sole musical of the year gives voice to Roald Dahl classic, inviting themes of revolution and activism

Now that winter is turning to spring, for ETHS students involved in theater, that means only one thing—it’s time for ETHS to put on its once- a- year musical. This year’s show is a story of activism, revolting and pigtail swinging; it’s the one and only “Matilda the Musical.”

Matilda is a young girl who loves nothing more than reading and learning, the exact opposite of her parents and brother who would rather watch TV all day, so, naturally, school is her safe place. But when she finds out the school’s principal is a corrupt adult who hates children, she rallies the kids to do what is right: revolt.

To create the school setting, 48 students were cast in the production. On top of the 48 actors, there will be around 45 crew/tech members, six supervising adults, two assistant directors and the director of the musical, Erin Claeys.

This is Claeys first time directing a musical at ETHS, and she explains why it connects especially well with high schoolers.

“Matilda sees all the problems in her school and rallies her fellow students to overthrow her cruel teacher, so it’s about revolution, and it’s about young people learning how to use their voices together to make change and about how young people are able to see immorality more clearly,” Claeys states. “So that’s why Matilda feels really relevant, because as high schoolers, you all really care about issues that feel relevant to you.”

Claeys has had past directing experience at ETHS with the frosh-soph plays “Clue” and “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!” but their directing career began long before they came to the school.

“I went to Northwestern and majored in theater, and while I was there I had a focus in directing,” Claeys says.

Claeys’ directing process is very process-oriented and uses lots of communication.

“I care a lot about the experience of the cast and the crew and everybody that I work with, so I do a lot of  work ahead of time. I spent the past few months doing a lot of text analysis and making sure I have a really clear vision,” Claeys explains. “Something really important about being a director is having a defining point of view, so I can easily communicate what the show is about.”

This process will come in handy, since a show with such a huge cast brings in many challenges. 

“Overall, the team is almost 100 people, so it’s just a lot of people. The one thing I’m trying to tell myself is that I trust my vision for the show and allowing that to be that guiding force,” Claeys says. “But when you have that many people in a room, it’s just about keeping everybody focused and getting it all done.”

Puppets are also a crucial part of Claeys vision for many of her shows..  She used puppets in the previous two ETHS plays she directed, but the ones for Matilda seem to top them. 

“I am a big puppet person,” Claeys declares. “My plan right now is to make two 10-15 feet tall puppets in collaboration with the crew that will be the Acrobat and the Escapologist.”

 Juniors Zach Cutter and Scythe Malone will be taking on the roles of assistant directors. Their roles entail helping out with lines, blocking, attendance, letting people know about their characters and their arcs, being a good presence and helping out whenever they can.

For Cutter, the motivation for becoming an assistant director was gaining musical and directing experience.  

“I’ve never really done a lot involving the musical besides crew, and I wanted to be more involved, but I also [wanted] to expand my directorial prowess, because I want to be a director,” Cutter states. 

Malone was convinced by the music and the large cast.

“The soundtrack is amazing,” Malone says. “And I love that there are so many characters that can be ensemble and a specific character.  It’s just a really fun show, and I think it’s something that we definitely need.” 

Cutter and Malone seem just as enthusiastic as Claeys about preparing for the show. 

“I’m excited to work with the cast. I was listening to all the auditions, and everyone sounds really good and has a really good presence,” Cutter says.

“I’m super excited for the Escapologist and the Acrobat. They’re going to be puppets, and I’m very excited about the music and how they come on stage,” Malone remarks.

Another crucial role is crew, who is responsible for building the set, lighting, sound and more. The role of stage manager in this production is filled by Junior Odeide Gaul.

“I wanted to be a Stage Manager to have better experience on the more technical sides of stage crew and theater production,” Gaul says. “I love working with the stage crew and designers during tech. It’s really fun and interesting to learn and experience how a show comes together.” 

Gaul’s roles as stage manager includes recording blocking, keeping track of props, writing rehearsal reports and calling cues during tech.

Gaul is also looking forward to starting the production.

“I’m really excited to work with the cast, crew, the other student leaders and [Claeys]” says Gaul. “[Claeys] and I  worked together before on the winter frosh-soph play “Clue” last year, and it was a really fun experience.”

Working on a show with such a big cast might be a struggle, but luckily, Gaul works with a talented crew.

“It’s challenging to have to record blocking and working with such a big cast, which is why I’m so grateful to have a great team I can work with,” Gaul says.

Ethan Lloyd and Ethan Arnold both auditioned for the show and have been casted as Micheal, (Matilda’s brother) and the Acrobat respectively.

Arnold is a long-time fan of “Matilda.”

“Matilda is one of my favorite shows. I saw it at Northwestern last year and on the West End, and I really like it,” Arnold mentions. 

According to Lloyd, the audition process was relaxed compared to others he had been part of in the past.

“The audition process consisted of a dance audition which was quite hard, but fun,” Lloyd states. “For the singing one, we just got called into a room, did what we prepared, she gave us a note then we did it again, and that was it.”

Lloyd had also worked with Erin in last year’s production of “Clue” and knows that her directing process is effective.

“She’s a really awesome interactive director. I really enjoy her specific methods, such as puppets, and I just think she’s really a genuinely wonderful person,” Lloyd says.

It is very important to have a director who cares, and a cast that truly loves the show, and it seems like this production has just that.

With skilled directors and a passionate and cohesive cast and crew, Claeys hopes to put on a show that sends a message about standing up for what is right.

“I hope they laugh and have a good time, but I also hope that they leave seeing that parallel between Matilda and activism,” Claeys expresses. “I hope that the students leave feeling really empowered that they were able to tell the story.”

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Xander Mroczek
Xander Mroczek, Staff Writer
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