PLAYBILLDER Spotlight: This Rochester High School Provides Affordable Theatre to Its Community | Playbill

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Education News PLAYBILLDER Spotlight: This Rochester High School Provides Affordable Theatre to Its Community

School of the Arts is helping students find confidence again post lockdown.

Welcome to PLAYBILLDER Spotlight, where Playbill highlights shows and events from educational institutions around the country (who have used Playbill's program-building service). By welcoming these PLAYBILLDERs center stage, we hope to give our readers a more in-depth look at theatre programs that are fostering the love of the performing arts in the next generation.

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This week's spotlight is School of the Arts of Rochester, New York and their production of Return to the Forbidden Planet. A jukebox musical by Bob CarltonReturn to the Forbidden Planet is adapted from the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, which is in turn loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. The score is full of '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll classics with dialogue largely transformed passages of Shakespeare. Campy and conceived for a cast of actor-musicians, the musical follows Captain Tempest and his spaceship's emergency landing on the uncharted planet D'Illyria, the only residents being mad scientist Doctor Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and their robot Ariel.

Drama Teacher Luke Fellows shared with Playbill the three things he tells his students before every performance and why his high school's theatre program fills a vital need in his community. 

Allen Main Stage's production of Return to the Forbidden Planet

Tell us a little about yourself. How many years have you been teaching? What is your proudest moment as an educator?
Luke Fellows: I have been a full-time drama teacher for 17 years. Over that time, I have had many proud moments, from seeing the student who barely wanted to speak in class be able to perform a whole monologue to having one of my students go from performing in our version of a famous musical to performing the same musical on a national tour. Standing back at the end of every performance and having that "We did it!" feeling also makes me proud.

What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of teaching the performing arts to today’s students?
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching the performing arts to today's students is that the pandemic seems to have knocked the confidence right out of many young people. Many are less inclined to want to even try to perform. There is a fear and reticence there that wasn't there before.

How does your school’s performing arts program impact your community?
The way our schools performing arts program impacts our community is because professional theatre is becoming increasingly expensive and high school theatre is not. There are many families in our school district who live beneath or just above the poverty line and we provide them with an opportunity to see live theatre. Tickets to professional productions are out of reach for many families, so they can never feel the joy of a live production. Because of this, our high school productions are, for many, their first experience with seeing live theatre. As well as providing opportunities for students, we are providing an affordable entertaining night out for our whole community.

Allen Main Stage's production of Return to the Forbidden Planet

Tell us a little bit about the production. What made you pick the show? How do you choose shows for your students?
We chose Return to the Forbidden Planet for a multitude of reasons. It has flexible and diverse casting, it is based on Shakespeare, the story is community friendly, and the music is fun. But what we found while doing the show, what we liked the most, is that it is a hidden gem, a show that is flying under the radar—a show that needs to be performed more! At some point during our rehearsals, every adult and students had the feeling that we were doing something special, almost new. Although our audience would not necessarily know the title, they would definitely love it in the way we do.

What message do you have for your students as they take the stage? There are three things that I always tell the company as we rehearse and present our shows. First I tell them, "Make the other person on stage with you look good." If everyone is trying to make each other look good, everyone will. Second, I tell them that it's all about the ensemble. If the leads perform well, then the audience will say, "That performer did a good job." But if the ensemble performs well, the audience will leave saying, "That's a good show!" Third, I always tell them to have fun. Enjoyment is infectious, and if a cast is having a good time on stage, the audience will feel that and enjoy themselves too.

Allen Main Stage's production of Return to the Forbidden Planet

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