This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 Harker Quarterly.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Becomes Urban Fantasy in Upper School Production
The Harker Conservatory modernized Shakespeare’s popular tale of love and enchantment in its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which played at the Blackford Theater Oct. 30-Nov. 1. Director Jeff Draper brought the comedy into the present day, staging the play in a city park setting that occupied the majority of the theater floor, with scenic designer Paul Vallerga strategically placing signs of urbanization throughout: a picnic bench here, a swingset there. This unorthodox set drew the audience closer to the story and also gave them a more well-rounded view of the cast.
Harker’s upper school players buoyantly unfurled the story of arranged marriages, mistaken identities, magical formulas and theatrical ineptitude, giving the play just the right amount of whimsy and charm. Carol Clever’s costume design put the human characters in modern dress while the mischievous, magical fairies were draped in garb that ranged from the regal to the outlandish.
Middle School Fall Play Explores the Conflicts of Character Archetypes
Middle school thespians found themselves in a motley collection of roles in this year’s middle school fall play, Alan Haehnel’s “The Unfinished.” Directed by Monica Colletti, this one-act comedy found its characters at the mercy of a writer (Alexander Kumar, grade 6) who has not yet finished their stories, essentially imprisoning them in his mind. When the innocent Melisande (Claire Russell, grade 7) enters their already crowded world, the characters are forced to examine the significance of a newcomer. The ever-cynical Guy (Haris Hosseini, grade 8) and the hopeful Narrator (Claire Newman, grade 8) disagree on the likelihood that they will ever be realized while the surly Janitor (Max MacKinnon, grade 7) simply wishes they would all leave. In the end, the wide variety of character archetypes, including the Bride and Groom (Dilara Ezer and Matthew Hajjar, both grade 8), the Cheerleader (Ellie Lang-Ree, grade 8) and the Clown (Jai Bahri, grade 7), find themselves freed through the Writer’s clever inclusion of them all in one manuscript – a play titled “The Unfinished.”
Paul Vallerga’s set design was appropriately sparse for this particularly character-driven story. Carol Clever’s costume design was also simple but effective, making the characters appropriately recognizable.
Upper School Singers Shed Light at ‘Ad Amore’
Upper school vocal groups delighted an evening audience in the Nichols Hall auditorium on Nov. 13 with “Ad Amore: Love as a Light,” which featured Bel Canto, Camerata, Guys’ Gig and Cantilena. Bel Canto, directed by Jennifer Sandusky, opened with Michael Praetorius’ “Anima Mea,” the first of a series of songs by European composers, which included the traditional French song “Brilla Brilla Piccola Stella” and “Funiculi, Funicula” by Luigi Denza.
Camerata, the upper school’s mixed chamber ensemble directed by Susan Nace, opened with a pair of hymns – “Barechu” by Salamone Rossi and “Alleluia” by Michael Praetorius – and concluded its set with Adriano Banchieri’s “Contrapunto bestiale alla mente,” which had its singers imitating the sounds of animals over a nonsensical poem sung by the basses.
In a slight departure from its usual fare, the student-run boys group Guys’ Gig began with the traditional “Gaudeamus Igitur,” with an arrangement by Johannes Brahms. Alex Henshall, grade 11, then sang solo on “McDonald’s Girl,” arranged by the Harvard Din and Tonics.
Closing the evening was the women’s choir Cantilena, also directed by Nace, who began with the concert’s namesake, “Ad Amore” by Lee Kesselmann and continued with “Suscepit Israel” from Bach’s “Magnificat.” Following a rendition of Franz Biebl’s uplifting “Ave Maria,” Cantilena ended with Greg Jasperse’s dynamic “Voice Dance.”
Violinist Frank Almond Gives Master Class Prior to Concert Series Performance
Prior to his performance at the Harker Concert Series (see page 40), Milwaukee Symphony concertmaster and player of the 1715 “Lipinski” Stradivarius, Frank Almond, gave a special master class to Harker students in the Nichols Hall auditorium. Almond discussed and taught classical violin technique to several students, going over concepts such as proper bowing technique, posture and changing the character of notes by holding the bow at various angles.
Excelsa Quartet Offers Workshop to Harker Students
The Maryland-based Excelsa Quartet gave a special workshop to Harker students in early October. Currently a quartet in residence at Stanford University’s Emerging String Quartet Program, the all-female ensemble played selections from their repertoire, offered insights as to how they work together and advised students on how to be more cohesive. For example, the group suggested using words as signals when learning to play rhythmically complex passages and practicing with simpler pieces to warm up for more complex material.
￼Harker Performers Show Up Big at Santana Row Tree Lighting
Harker performing arts groups had a big presence at the Santana Row tree lighting ceremony, “Light Up the Row,” on Nov. 18. Seven groups performed at the event, which was attended by thousands of people. The students practiced for weeks to prepare for the event, and Harker students comprised more of the evening’s performers than those from any other school. This was the first Santana Row tree lighting to feature Vivace, the middle school mixed choir, which performed The Beach Boys’ “Melekalikimaka.” Also present were a variety of dance groups from the middle and upper schools, including the upper school’s junior varsity and varsity dance squads, the grade 7-8 girls dance group Showstoppers, and the grade 7-8 boys dance group High Voltage. Each of the groups performed two sets, including the upper school show choir Downbeat, which did a funny, Tim Burton-esque take on the holiday mainstay “Deck the Halls.”