Conservatory for the Arts
Technical Theatre

'Into the Woods' is more than great theatre, it’s a bold collaboration

Beneath the black cape a screaming, mean old Witch is a student overcame stage fright. The musicians tucked in the orchestra pit had never experienced the rigor of playing for a live stage production. Those three massive moveable trees on stage? Our technical theatre students started building them back in January, pneumatic staplers in hand.
Mayfield’s spring musical Into the Woods, which ran in mid-March, was not only a live showcase for the diversity of artistic talent on campus, it showcased a major collaborative effort that challenged each student to bring her best to Pike Auditorium.

“I’m so proud of how much everyone has grown in this production,” said Emma Gilliland ’19, who plays Cinderella. “The amount of work that everyone has put in is incredible—the tech crew, the musicians, the cast, and all of our teachers…It has really pushed everyone mentally, physically and emotionally. Everyone’s unique gifts have gone into this show.”

For the first time in memory, the cast included boys in primary roles that called for two princes and a baker. Mayfield actors said the move brought a fun and realistic element to the show, plus an opportunity to make new friends.

“It’s truly an ambitious undertaking that has challenged every student to step out of their creative comfort zone and push themselves for the good of the show,” said Kimberly Gomez, Conservatory for the Arts Director. “What you see on stage is a production that we are all so proud of—and our students took ownership of every step of the process.”

With its complex music by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods is a modern twist on famous Brothers Grimm fairy tales, with intertwining plots that explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and a childless baker and his wife all interact with the mean old Witch.

Act like you mean it
Abigail Gagnier ’20, who played the Witch, said that after three years of participating in the Women’s Ensemble and Vocal Conservatory, she is  comfortable on a stage with a choir of blended voices. But this performance is like no other.

“In vocal you need to do exactly what everyone else is doing; we sing as one,” Abby said. “But I learned in this show that I have to really commit, I have to really exaggerate to look good on stage.”

Every song was difficult and every line challenged her.

“I have very big stage fright and this is quite possibly the most difficult role I could imagine,” she said. “I literally shake every time I perform it.”

Yet during the final dress rehearsal Abby’s strong performance belied any lingering stage fright. 

Clarabelle Sullivan ’21 plays the mother of Jack (as in Jack and the Beanstalk). In real life Clarabelle is known for her joyful attitude and positivity. On stage she must transform herself.

“Now I have to embody negativity and meaness,” she said. “I have definitely grown and this has definitely helped my endurance—practicing and practicing this role while staying in character.”

Conservatory-wide effort
All of Mayfield’s Conservatory for the Arts programs contributed to the production. Visual artists designed the cover of the program and photographers helped. 

Under guidance of Dance Conservatory instructor Denise Leitner, Isabella Vinci ’1, the dance captain, helped to choreograph each number and teach it to the cast. Vocal instructor Andrew Alvarez taught the girls difficult music and Instrumental instructor Christin Hablewitz conducted the eight-person ensemble, which included five student musicians.

Kenneth Fisher, Mayfield mathematics teacher and2018 Basketball and Track & Field coach, displayed yet another Renaissance-man skill—acting—as the show's narrator. Our expert photography and digital art teacher Paul Tzanetopoulos shared his expertise by supporting our technical team.

The musical also features a special sister act with Marie Bland ’19 as the Baker’s Wife and her sister, Audrey ’20, as the Stepmother.

“With my sister in the show I thought we should just do it together as kind of a last hurrah,” Audrey said.

“Every student brought her own unique essence to each role in the show. From day one of auditions, their energy and joy in performing was evident and so exciting to work with,” said Andrea Sweeney ’12, director of the show and Interim Theatre Conservatory instructor. “To be a part of guiding and challenging them to bring the magic of theatre to life has been a real privilege, and their fun choices and discoveries just keep growing every day.”

Ms. Sweeney, a professional actor and singer, said serving at Mayfield this year has been a special homecoming.  An alumna of the school, it feels like yesterday that she was performing her senior theatre project on the very same Pike stage!

One of her goals was to infuse a sense of professionalism among the student actors, from the hours they committed studying the production to thinking quick on their feet when something doesn’t go as planned. The attention to details—from costumes, to set, to lighting—enlivens the show and helps actors transform into the role.

“It’s about empowering them to trust their instincts on and off the stage, and communicate their needs,” Ms. Sweeney said.

Details count
No one knows the details better than stage manager Dominique Jakowec ’19, a member of Mayfield’s Technical Theatre and Theatre Conservatories who will be pursuing her passion at School of Dramatic Arts at USC next fall.

What’s important to know, she emphasized, is that Mayfield students built the set by themselves. Under the guidance of Technical Theatre Director Phillip Velasco and scenic artist Maryanne Householder, the girls helped design the set, measured and cut the wood to build it, including the elaborate storybook backdrops and giant trees.

“This is definitely the most prop heavy show we have ever done,” Dominique said. “It also has a lot of cues, a lot of lights, a lot of sound...It’s just an incredibly hard show and it’s so cool seeing it all come together.”

Exhausted and exhilarated all at once after their final dress rehearsal, the girls hugged and cheered after their final bows like a sports team that  just won the championship.  

“It’s all teamwork, definitely teamwork,” Emma said. “And perseverance. There were times when we wondered if it was all going to work out. But we stuck with it, everyone put in their share of work—and that’s what makes it great. I can’t wait for everyone to see it!”
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.