Putting on a school play is nothing new. And it normally isn’t a super big deal, either. Unless it’s a bunch of seventh graders putting on “Fiddler on the Roof.” To set the scene, there’s an aging litany of two- and three-act plays high school drama clubs usually draw from. Most call for a cast of no more than a dozen, entail two to three set changes and usually work through two scenes per act.
Most have dialogue. Only a few have songs. “Fiddler,” on the other hand, has no less than 28 scenes and 15 set changes. It also boasts a cast of 36, has at least 30 songs and literally dozens of prop changes.
And this is what my great-granddaughter’s seventh grade class at Christ the King School did last week. The performance was stunning. It was carried off without a flaw or mishap (unheard of in most high school thespian efforts) and managed to accomplish all of this with only rudimentary stagecraft trappings.
The theater was the school gymnasium. The stage was a raised platform at one end. Lighting was two pin spots that had to move with the action. Microphones were the upright on stands variety, which meant actors had to skillfully sidle up to one of them whenever they had lines to speak.
And, oh yeah, those numerous set changes. Each set was a full-size flat with a weighted base. Four students artfully removed the existing flat from the stage and then hauled a new one aboard for each change of scene. And they did it in total darkness.
Many years ago I saw “Fiddler” on Broadway. The director announced before the opening curtain that a new innovation had been developed for the play as a way to make it through the large number of scene changes.
The innovation was a rotating carousel in the middle of the stage. While one scene was going on in front, stage hands were busy putting together the next scene on the back side. At the end of each scene they walked the carousel around to open the next scene. Our seventh graders had no carousel.
Sure, the audience had to cock its collective ear to hear some of the dialogue, and the pin spot lighting tended to be overly bright.
But the story – a sad one at that – rang true, and the songs reached our hearts. And the final applause, though heartfelt, conveyed only a token of the appreciation we actually felt. And as we walked out of the school I heard a few people quietly humming the melody to “Tradition!”