Arts & Entertainment

McLean High School Theater Group Appeals for Support

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Finalists in the “McLean Idol” competition are pictured above. The “American Idol” style singing contest was hosted as a fundraiser by the McLean High School Theater Boosters. The group has set a fundraising goal of $21,000 for this year in order to provide high school drama students with the resources they need. (Photo: Sarah Chaikind)

The award-winning theater company at McLean High School is appealing for friends and local businesses to dig deep and help them fill a funding gap. The drama group, which won a regional competition last year with “Kurdt,” a dramatization based on the tragic life of the singer Kurt Cobain, is facing a shortfall in funding.

As enthusiastic students and staff work to prepare for their fall show, a one-act play by Thornton Wilder called “The Long Christmas Dinner” exploring 90 years of seasonal meals with the Long family, the McLean High School Theater Boosters are fighting to raise funds to keep the theater company fully equipped and able to attend competitions.

With a target of $21,000 for the year, the current total raised is just over $6,000.

Booster President Linda Stone, who has two children at McLean High, says all help is welcome.

“We were very blessed to receive a grant from the McLean Citizens’ Foundation a couple of years back. That helped us a lot, but grants are getting harder to find,” Stone said. “It would be wonderful to find more people willing to support the theater program at McLean High School. If anyone can help, we would love to hear from them.”

The theater program is supported by students and parents who donate what they can and also raise funds through bake sales and bazaars but, for all their work, they do not bring in enough for the big-ticket items, such as audio-visual equipment.

Students and staff just completed a successful event to help meet the target. In late October, 24 students were selected from school-wide auditions to perform in an “American Idol” style singing competition at the high school. Senior Danielle Wertz was voted “McLean Idol,” with freshman Alex Stone as first runner-up and sophomore Nancy Pruett as second runner-up.

One of the major requirements for this year’s budget is an urgent upgrade of the communications system to enable the director and the technical staff to communicate without being heard by the audience. This need became evident when voiceovers could be heard briefly in a recent show.

The group also needs funds to attend the various regional competitions, like for the Cappies and the Virginia Thespian awards.

An innovative feature of the McLean program is a “Fringe Festival,” featuring short plays, films and musical performances written, produced and performed by the students. McLean High School was given a rare invitation to participate in the American High School Theater Festival at the internationally-acclaimed Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 2009. Forty-three schools in the United States were selected to participate, with McLean being the only school from Northern Virginia.

McLean students have also participated in the “Text Alive!” theatre program through the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington D.C. and performed at such prestigious venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts and the Folger Shakespeare Theater.

Stone is full of praise for all previous productions, but also credits a lot of the new energy in the drama group to the young teacher, Amy Poe, a graduate of the University of Virginia, whose drive and ideas have encouraged students to push themselves toward the highest commercial and artistic standards.

Students take specific roles within a renamed “McLean Theater Company” and are encouraged to approach each production as a professional effort. This seriousness of purpose for all roles, whether backstage, technical, promotional or on-stage, has produced inspiring results.

“Amy has been wonderful for the students,” Stone said. “They are doing new and inventive things. The kids are just loving it! They each get assigned a real role, whether it is props management or scenery or promotion, and they get the responsibility to go with it. She teaches them how those jobs would be in a real theater.”

In recent years, McLean High School students have earned more than 45 nominations and won almost 20 awards (including for Best Play) from the Cappies “Critics and Awards Program.” In 2011, McLean High School was named Liberty District Champions in the Virginia High School League (VHSL) One-Act Play Competition.

This year’s Cappies competition production will be “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller. “The Long Christmas Dinner,” directed by Terry Mittelman, begins on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m.

For more information on the program and its fundraising efforts, visit mcleanhstheatre.org.