Tag Archives: Karen McCormick

“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.

[OPINION] Some Kids Need Lessons In Kindness

An alert “06880” reader — and disappointed middle school parent — writes:

I am grateful every day to raise my children in our wonderful town. They go to public schools staffed by caring, enthusiastic teachers.

Yet something happened this past Saturday at Bedford Middle School that made me ask myself, “What can we do to make our town even better?” I’m asking “06880” readers that question too.

During the 7 p.m. performance of “Alice in Wonderland,” several 6th grade students in the audience heckled the actors. They gave them the L “loser” sign, the middle finger, and booed.

Several actors were in tears. One would not get back on stage. Another missed his lines.

I hope the heckling students get more than a central detention. I would like to see them get a lesson in kindness, and make amends.

As with other school performances in town, the students and teachers of BMS spent months working on and rehearsing “Alice in Wonderland.” Teachers Karen McCormick and Lynne Karmen, assistant stage director Ryan Smith and parent volunteers spent days, nights and weekends coordinating the many aspects of the show: teaching students the fine points of acting, creating  and setting the stage.

In addition, 8th grade actors and stage crew dedicated up to 60 hours of their time, helping younger students learn about lighting and sound, memorize lines and gather the courage to get on stage.

They deserved applause and support, not heckling.

Bedford Middle School used 8 Alices, to include as many 6th graders as possible in the show. (Photo/January Stewart)

I hope there will be a truly sincere apology directed to the actors and teachers. Each heckler could write a letter to an actor, and read it on stage as actors and teachers sit in the seats.

Or perhaps those apology letters could be printed out and posted on the auditorium doors.

Hecklers could also pick up trash for a few days in the school cafeteria after lunch, or after the next school performance.

No one is looking for harsh punishment for those hecklers. Kids make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

We as a community need to build up our children when they make mistakes, not break them down. We as a community need to help each other find solutions that help our youth adopt kinder behavior, make proper amends and learn from their mistakes.

To BMS actors: You had the courage to be on stage. You did a great job at the show. Don’t let detractors get you down. We hope to see you at the next performances!

To BMS teachers, parent volunteers and 7th and 8th grade volunteers: Thank you for giving our 6th graders a chance to grow and shine, each in their own way. Thank you for your dedication!

To Westport: What can we do better to teach our kids and our friends to be kinder to one another?

Any suggestions?

Alices In Wonderland

“Alice in Wonderland” is a great play for kids.

But Bedford Middle School director Karen McCormick was still surprised when 77 students auditioned for her school’s 6th grade-only production of that classic tale.

Because she wants to give as many youngsters as possible a chance to perform, she cast all 77.

That took some creativity.

But McCormick is nothing if not creative. Which is why, when the curtain rises on March 23, 24 and 25, audiences will see 8 different “Alices.”

All in the same show.

Bedford Middle School’s 8 Alices include, back row: (from left): Sarah McCourt, Iva Radman, Sarah Himes, Maggie Montoya, Dagny Dahl. Front: Samantha Edwards, Grace Power, Maya Cohen. (Photo/January Stewart)

The actors — including cards, queens, oysters and more — are having a great time.

Theatergoers will too. Young children and their parents are invited onstage after the 2 matinees (March 24 and 25).

A special “Mad Hatter Tea Party” is planned for Saturday, March 24 (1 p.m.). Parents and children will be served tea and crumpets by characters from the play. All funds raised go to Bedford’s drama partner, Jettie S. Tisdale School in Bridgeport — which performs their own “Alice in Wonderland” in June.

No word yet on how many Alices they’ll use.

“Alice in Wonderland” will be performed at Bedford Middle School on Friday, March 23 (7 p.m.), Saturday, March 24 (2 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and Sunday, March 25 (2 p.m.). Click here for tickets.

Bedford Backs Leah’s Birthday Bash

Pirate costumes, swords, crowns and scepters; a life-size Glinda the Good Witch cutout; Alice in Wonderland costumes for this spring’s production — all that and more is moving from Bedford Middle School to Kolbe Cathedral High.

Bedford is happy to give it up. The props and costumes are headed to a photo booth at “Leah’s Birthday Bash.” The annual carnival — raising thousands of scholarship dollars — is one of the most important dates on the Bedford calendar.

Leah Rondon

The event honors the memory of the 6-year-old daughter of longtime science teacher Colleen Rondon. When Leah died in a tragic accident 2 1/2 years ago, Bedford teachers rallied to hold the first carnival. The middle school staff will be in full force this Saturday (February 3, noon to 4 p.m.).

Current and former BMS students, including Jamie Mann and Jasper Burke, perform too.

Visual arts teacher Lynne Karmen, library media specialist Kelly Zatorsky and costumers Paula Lacey and Elisa Smith Pasqua are all helping with the elaborate production — complete with tripods and LED lights.

Science teacher Jason Frangenes and math teacher Laurie Gray again runs the ping pong toss. Last year, Frangenes provided hundreds of goldfish as prizes.

Theater teacher and stage director Karen McCormick — who helps supervise the moving of all those props and costumes to Kolbe — says the Bedford faculty dives in to help because they believe so strongly in the event.

“We all want to support Colleen,” McCormick adds. “It’s a great way to keep her daughter alive.”

Rondon’s husband Henry is Kolbe’s principal. The carnival’s proceeds benefit the Leah Rondon Memorial Scholarship Fund.

(Kolbe Cathedral High School is at 33 Calhoun Place, Bridgeport. For more information on the carnival, click here.)

 

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.)

Bedford Students Find Higher Ground

It’s a sad but true fact of middle school life:  Kids get bullied.

They’re called “retard,” “lardass” and “gay.”  They get pushed and shoved, or — sometimes worse — ignored.

Bullying is front and center at Bedford.  But that’s okay:  The school’s acting group is tackling the issue head on, with a production of “Higher Ground.”

The play — set for this Thursday and Friday, May 27 and 28 (7:30 p.m.) — addresses various types of bullying.  The central character is teased and harassed when he walks away after insinuations are made about his sexuality.

The title comes from an image of youngsters running — like animals — to higher ground, to escape predators.

Some of the cast of "Higher Ground." (Photo by Kerry Long)

“The kids love it,” says Bedford drama teacher Karen McCormick.  “It’s honest and true.  They really relate to it.”

Students at Sherwood Middle School in Oregon related to it too — especially because it was written by their drama teacher, Jennie Brown.  But school administrators there banned the play, after parents objected.  Officials said the play was too mature for many students, and might have offended audience members.

McCormick has the full backing of colleagues.  Principal Cary Bell is so enthusiastic, he asked the cast to perform the show for the entire school.  He’s even been written into one scene.

“I don’t know what effect it will have on the audience,” McCormick says.  “But the 40 or 50 kids involved in the play are all talking about it, and thinking about it.”

Bedford is even bringing Brown — the author and teacher — to Westport.

She’ll talk to Bedford students about bullying — and will finally see her play performed at a middle school.

(Tickets for this Thursday and Friday’s 7:30 p.m. performances of “Higher Ground” are available at the door.)