VERNON — Seventh- and eighth-grade students at Glen Meadow Middle School recently performed ‘Into the Woods: Junior Edition,’ based on the book by James Lapine and music score of Stephen Sondheim.
Artistic Director Eileen J. Pavlik runs the theatre program she founded at the middle school called Music Interpretive Student Theatre. This will be her 27th year with the school district.
The production was directed and accompanied on the piano by Pavlik, school seventh- and eighth-grade choir director, who also teaches Piano Lab at Vernon Township High School.
The philosophy behind MIIST is encouraging students to experiment with their own character interpretations.
"I like the students discovering what works on their own," Pavlik said. "That's really where the best acting comes from. It gives them their own unique presentation of the performance."
‘Into the Woods’ was the third production Pavlik has directed at the school. Auditions were open to all seventh- and eighth-grade Glen Meadow Middle School students.
The theatre program at the middle school begins with two theatre workshop sessions held in August for students attending school in September to get the opportunity to prepare for the fall musical by learning some of the songs from the show.
"I pick the musical based on the number of students who want to participate, so everyone gets a role. That's the beauty of it."
"Into the Woods, Jr.’ featured a cast of 27 students.
“It’s a confidence builder,” Pavlik said. “I’ve seen such growth from so many shy kids. It’s about believing in yourself, and the cast ends up being this big family supporting and encouraging one another.”
Last year, the students performed Roald Dahl’s ‘Willy Wonka, Jr,’ and ‘Snoopy! The Musical’ the year prior.
According to Pavlik, the theatre program originated with a few talented students in her General Music class.
“I just didn’t think there was enough opportunity for middle-school-age kids and younger to know what theatre was all about,” she said. “There were so many of my students who didn’t even know what Broadway is.”
Pavlik, who recalls playing Dorothy from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in the third grade, explains said she loves working with the kids in this program.
"The focus is to not just get the student who knows about acting involved, but to get the student who has never had any prior experience on stage exposed to performing,” Pavlik said.
Pavlik attained a Masters in Elementary Education from State University of New York at New Paltz and a bachelor in Music Education from Westminster Choir College. She has a private studio where she teaches piano out of her home in New Hampton, N.Y.
Elisabetta Bracer, 13, played The Witch.
“The experience was really nice," she said. "We spent a week in the chorus room acting and doing improvisation before auditioning for the parts we wanted to go for.”
This was Bracer’s first time acting in a production.
Eighth-grader Vincent Ventriglia, 14, of Vernon portrayed Rapunzel’s Prince.
“One of my favorite parts is getting blinded by The Witch and having to wander through the desert,” Ventriglia said. “Working with Ethan Metz, Cinderella’s Prince, was a lot of fun, too.” Ventriglia and Metz sing the song "Agony" together, which Ventriglia admits was difficult to work through.
Metz, 13, agrees. “The song explains itself," he said. "It’s about two princes struggling to get to the princesses with all of these obstacles in the way. As the princes, we’re just letting out our emotions.”
Vernon eighth-grader Matthew Losco, 13, was The Baker.
Losco says he wasn’t crazy about his role to begin with, but ended up loving it.
“This was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life," he said. "It’s my favorite role that I’ve ever played, and I’ve been in so many productions, I lost count!”
In the spring, MIIST will perform its first drama at the middle school.