By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
It’s common for high-quality productions to grace the ISB Theater, but Liberation Cabaret was a show with a difference – it was organized entirely by students.
On April 12 and 13, ISB High Schoolers brought to the stage an extravaganza of songs from Disney musicals and popular shows. Taking the audience on a journey from imprisonment to freedom, the show included singing, acting and dance.
Here, director Ray K explains how he made it happen, the challenges he and his cast faced, and what they learned during a hectic two months of rehearsals:
“I’m in grade 11 and came to ISB in grade 4. I didn’t start theater until grade 9. After I came to High School, my passion for theater really ignited. I’m the president of the Thespians Club, which does minor performances throughout the year, and I’ve been in most of the big productions in High School. Annually, there’s a One Act Festival which I’m always a part of. This year, I directed a play, I produced two plays and I acted in two plays. In total, I was part of five one-act plays during that one-week span. If you ask my friends, they’ll say I can’t hang out because I have rehearsal.
“Over this past summer, I went to summer camp, where I saw for the first time a cabaret in action. I was inspired by that kind of performance because it was so simple yet it did so much for the audience. I felt that it was an easy thing to put together (I was wrong!), so I leapt at the opportunity to direct one myself.
“Deciding on the songs was a very collaborative process. A cabaret is always centered around a theme. I compiled a list of six or seven theme suggestions and I put them on an online document for the cast to vote on. It eventually came down to the one that we did, Liberation; plus Past and Present; and Home. We agreed on Liberation because it was the one that had most potential to explore different types of songs – we could have upbeat numbers, big group numbers, small individual numbers. Everybody wanted to do something with variety.
“Afterwards, I got input from people on what songs we should do. I compiled a list of 12 songs (one of them was eventually cut) based on my knowledge of musical theater. I took it upon myself to make sure everybody had a song that fit them. I’ve been working with all these people for about three years now – I know them pretty well. I chose songs that highlighted their strengths but also allowed them to work on their weaknesses. As a director, that’s what I want from my cast because everyone should be striving to perform the best they can.
“The big opening number was “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago. That’s one of the most popular show songs because it’s so enticing with the way it’s staged. We went on to songs from Disney, from musicals such as Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, plus songs from lesser-known musicals like Urinetown. All these shows have no relation to each other except that they have characters searching for freedom. I wanted to construct a musical journey for the audience. I feel I partially succeeded in that.
“One of the most difficult parts was getting everybody to commit and come together. Although I’ve often been on stage, I’ve never really understood what goes on behind the scenes and how much effort putting together a big show is. I learned a little bit of that during the One Act Festival, but that was nowhere near the scale and complexity of this.
“Next year, I plan on directing something else, preferably something I write. I feel like I’ve prepared myself for the challenge in learning how to create an environment that’s good, manage my time properly, manage other people’s time.
“What I want everyone to understand is that there is a select group of ISB kids that would do anything to perform on stage. We hope the ISB community can continue to come and support us artists.”