Tag Archives: Bedford Acting Group

“Fractured Fairy Tales”: The Story Behind The BMS Show

This has not been an easy year for middle schoolers.

Coleytown was closed in September due to mold; 6th and 7th graders have been at Bedford ever since. Every day, administrators, staff and students of 2 schools make compromises. Everyone involved has done a great — and often unheralded — job.

But it’s one thing to move classes, or share gym and cafeteria space. It’s another thing entirely to accommodate 2 different drama productions simultaneously.

Traditionally each spring, CMS stages an all-school musical. BMS puts on a 6th grade non-musical.

Both are fully staged, with professionally produced costumes and sets. Both involve scores of students.

Directors Ben Frimmer (CMS) and Karen McCormick (BMS) agreed to keep the schedule the same as in past years. They would share space during rehearsals, but — to provide stage time for actors and the technical staff — Bedford would push its opening back to April.

Bedford Middle School art teacher Lynn Karmen, with one of her set painters. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Musicals require tons of space — for dancers, singers and scene work. Coleytown’s “42nd Street” was especially big. With only 3 weeks for Bedford to install their set, create costumes and the actors to transfer what they’d learned from such a small space to a big stage, the BMS show could not be technically complex.

Normally, Bedford’s non-musical is a version of a classic childen’s book like “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Phantom Tollbooth.” But with such limited room for rehearsals, plus set and costume construction, McCormick and her staff decided on a series of short stories from the 1960s “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon show, called “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

They crafted 15 stories, and added short “fairy tale” commercials.

That provided 70 actors with over 240 roles to share. There are 40 narrators, 15-plus kings, queens, princes and princesses, and dozens of goblins, beasts, chickens, ogres, court jesters and peasants. Each youngster is featured in at least 2 “plays.”

The Do It All Wand cast. (Photo/January Stewart)

They found space in hallways and classrooms. Combined with Coleytown’s set construction crews, tap dancers, costume people, there were some very noisy afternoons.

“The kids didn’t mind,” McCormick says. “They worked very well under the circumstances.”

With just 12 days of unfettered access to the stage, BMS got creative with their set. “Fractured Fairy Tales” uses a new 25-foot floor-to-ceiling movie screen as a backdrop. It features hundreds of colorful images, most from old cartoons. On stage, 20 colorful 18-inch cubes instantly turn into thrones, tables or mountains.

Transferring the off-stage rehearsals onto the large stage has taken some work. But, McCormick says, the actors are working hard on new blocking, and pumped-up motions.

“Fractured Fairy Tales” rehearsals are fun — and energetic. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Costumes were done later than usual too. BMS actors received theirs only a few days ago. Each person has 2 to 4 costume changes — some with only minutes to spare. They’re working on that too.

But this is Bedford Middle School. Like their Coleytown counterparts, the young actors and their tech crew embrace the challenge.

When the curtain rises this Friday, audiences will not even realize what everyone went through to produce “Fractured Fairy Tales.” They’ll smile, laugh and applaud. Just like every other BMS show.

(“Fractured Fairy Tales” performances are this Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 27 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

(NOTE: Coleytown’s show — “42nd Street” — overcame several obstacles too, beyond shared space. Click here for that “06880” story.)

Bedford Actors Take “Higher Ground”

On May 11 and 12, Bedford Acting Group will present a controversial play about bullying in middle school. It’s a hot topic now, all over the country.

Co-directors Karen McCormick and Ryan Smith have planned “Higher Ground” for a while.

It’s not the first time they’ve addressed the issue.

In 2010, then-8th grader Will Haskell played the lead. He’s now running for a state senate seat — and will speak to the cast during rehearsals.

Will Haskell, in Bedford Middle School’s 2010 production of “Higher Ground.”

The play deals frankly with important issues like body image, race and sexuality. Characters are taunted for various reasons, before banding together and standing up in the end.

One boy is teased, harassed and assaulted after he shrugs off a misunderstanding about whether he is gay or straight. Other students are bullied for their weight, ethnicity, dress, interest in academics and being in special education.

“Higher Ground” was written in 2008 by Sherwood, Oregon middle school teacher Jennie Brown. Her principal called it “too mature,” and ordered it rewritten. Students countered that it depicted middle school life accurately, and refused to perform if it was censored.

The show was canceled. But the community rose in support, and “Higher Ground” enjoyed 3 sold-out performances at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

Eight years ago McCormick found the script online. With the full support of BMS administration, the play was presented. It earned raves.

Brown has updated the play to reflect today’s technological and social media environment. But the message remains the same.

And it’s one every Westporter should see.

(“Higher Ground” will be presented on Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 p.m. in the Bedford Middle School auditorium. Click here for tickets.) 

Top row (from left): Ryan Porio, Alex Waterworth. Bottom row: Sydney Gusick, Quinn Mulvey, Isabella Roberts.

Middle School Actors Make Their Marks

When the curtain rises this Thursday (April 7, 7 p.m.) on “Mary Poppins,” Ben Frimmer will be in a familiar role: director.

But, he says, the huge sets, challenging acting, singing and choreography make this one of the most adventurous shows he’s ever done.

He’s up to the task. In fact, he was recently nominated for an Excellence in Theater Education honor — sponsored by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University — by parents and former students. The winner will be announced this spring.

Ben Frimmer, directing his cast.

Ben Frimmer, directing his cast. (Photo/Sophie Driscoll)

One letter in particular stands out. Ellen Knapp wrote of Frimmer’s support of her son, Cooper.

He never wanted to be on stage, she says. And he may never be there again.

But last spring Frimmer encouraged the 8th grader to audition for Lurch, in “The Addams Family.”

In fact, Knapp says, that encouragement was “perhaps the finest example of teaching I have ever experienced.” Frimmer acknowledged Cooper’s misgivings, then sold him on the “thrilling, awesome, intoxicating” thrill of being onstage.

Finally, Frimmer said the magic words: “I believe in you, Cooper.”

He got the part.  He was embraced by his fellow actors. He even cut his hair.

Cooper Knapp, as Lurch.

Cooper Knapp, as Lurch.

In the finale, Lurch — who lived silently in the play’s shadows — steps to center stage, and belts out the epic song “Move Toward the Darkness.”

The audience went wild.

“Cooper literally found his voice as Lurch,” Ellen says. “And came to life as a man.”

That’s quite a story. This weekend at Coleytown, audiences will see Frimmer’s magic with another cast, in “Mary Poppins.”

Meanwhile, last weekend — a short way up North Avenue — the Bedford Acting Group brought “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to life.

In a Wonka-like spirit, the cast and crew partnered with Saugatuck Sweets to sell chocolate bars. Each one contained a ticket for a grand raffle prize: a weekly ice cream sundae for a year.

Fifty percent of the proceeds from the promotion benefit the Leah Randon Memorial Scholarship. It’s named for the daughter of a popular Bedford teacher, killed in an accident last year.

Theater is alive and well in Westport’s middle schools. So is creativity, sharing and caring.

Middle School Theater Makes Its Mark

Recently, Nick Ribolla acted, sang and danced his way to audiences’ hearts as Jimmy Smith, in Staples Player’s superb production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” earlier this month.

Nick is only a sophomore. But he’d already played that role before, when Bedford Middle School presented “Millie.” Other “Millie” veterans from Bedford include Amanda Horowitz, Maddy Rozynek, Claire Smith, Emily Ressler, Nick Massoud, Joe Badion, Josh Popkin, Kelly Gore,  Caroline Didelot, Will Haskell, Caroline Rossi, Sam Adelmann, Christian Melhuish, and Emma Ruchefsky.

Nick Ribolla (Jimmy Smith) and Julia Mandelbaum (Millie), in Bedford Acting Group's "Thoroughly Modern Millie." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Nick Ribolla (Jimmy Smith) and Julia Mandelbaum (Millie), in Bedford Acting Group’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Players wow Westport with their professional-quality shows. But the incredibly talented casts — and the equally strong technical crew, working behind the scenes — do not show up in 9th grade as novices.

They’re exposed to theater at Bedford and Coleytown. For many youngsters, middle school is where a lifelong passion begins.

Bedford Acting Group is run by director/presentation skills teacher Karen McCormick, assistant director Ryan O’Neill and producer Marge French.

All interested students are accepted. That makes for an enormous cast — the current show, “Guys and Dolls,” has 90 7th and 8th graders, with dozens more working on tech — but, French says, “it’s worth it. In middle school, kids should explore many different activities and interests. Like sports, this is a great way to learn teamwork.”

Every fall, Bedford’s fall musical is open to 7th and 8th graders. In the spring, there’s a straight play for 6th graders. In between, there’s a drama workshop for all students who want more theater.

Philip Cadoux, Jimmy Ray Stagg and Steven Xu as the 3 Chinese characters in "Millie." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Philip Cadoux, Jimmy Ray Stagg and Steven Xu as the 3 Chinese characters in “Millie.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“This is not a ‘middle school show,'” French emphasizes. “We have professional sound, lighting and costumes. We hold the kids to very high standards. This is a great steppingstone to Staples Players.”

So is Coleytown Company. Started 18 years ago by Ben Frimmer, the schedule is the opposite of Bedford. Fall brings a 6th grade no-costume, no-set, open-to-all show (this year’s is Disney’s “Aristocats Kids”), serving as an introduction to theater.

The spring production — which begins in December — is an all-school musical. There are auditions, but between the large cast and tech crew, 100 or more youngsters are involved. This year’s show is “Shrek.”

High production values marked Coleytown's "Fiddler on the Roof."

Everett Sussman and Samantha Chachra in Coleytown’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Photo/Failla)

“We work on middle school ideals,” Frimmer says. “It’s all about building self-esteem, feeling part of something, learning a skill, and putting theater together.”

The director adds, “We set the bar high. We have very high production values. We love the kids, and we push them. ” 

Frimmer always looks for unique angles. For “Annie,” Coleytown used the actual Broadway dog.

He points with pride to the “Wish Circle,” the moment when every cast and crew member gathers in his room to share insights on what the theater experience means to them.

“No one ever says, ‘I’m going to be an actor,'” Frimmer notes. “They talk about building friendships, and forming bonds. As an educator, for me that’s what it’s all about.”

"Peter Pan" wowed Coleytown Middle School audiences.

Remy Leifer as Smee, and Jacob Leaf as Captain Hook, in Coleytown Middle School’s “Peter Pan.” (Photos/Failla)

David Roth — the Staples Players director who welcomes those experienced actors and tech crew members to high school — praises the middle school programs.

“They’re terrific,” he says. “Kids come into 9th grade with experience and knowledge they wouldn’t otherwise have. So we start here at an amazing level.”

Roth notes the “symbiotic relationship” between the middle schools, and Staples. “Kids get excited seeing our shows. They bring that excitement back to their middle school productions. And because they’re so excited, they’re very well prepared when they get here.

“Westport has a 7-year theater program. Staples is a continuation of middle school. And middle school is vital to our quality.”

(For information on Bedford’s “Guys and Dolls” — presented December 6, 7 and 8 — click here.)