Looking out from the stage; “Phantom of the Opera” from the cast perspective


Joslyn Holtfort Photography

Raoul, played by junior Luke Williamson, and Christine, played by junior Savanna Theisen, share a moment on a snowy rooftop.

Kerry Madden, Reporter

This year’s spring musical, “The Phantom of the Opera,” was a showcase of the theatre department’s talent on stage and behind the scenes. The well known show was challenging for the cast and crew, but with dedicated students and rehearsal, the final product was one that the cast and crew were proud of, according to sophomore Abby Holtfort, who played prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli.
“I felt apprehensive going into Phantom. It’s such a technically difficult show,” Holtfort said. “But as soon as the cast list came out, I didn’t feel nervous anymore. We have so much talent in the department.”
Holtfort wasn’t the only one with nerves initially. A dance captain and ballerina for the musical, sophomore Sara Gray felt wary about other aspects of the show.
“I was a little nervous going into it,” Gray said. “I had not seen some of the dances from the show for a little while, so I didn’t know what choreographing a show like this would be like.”
With only six weeks to put on a show most high schools never dare to touch, every moment of rehearsal time was critical to construct every element of the show. Rehearsal for “Phantom of the Opera” began in November whereas some other schools in the district began rehearsing their shows the first month of school.
“The rehearsal process was difficult since we had to put the show together so quickly, but we trucked along and got our work done,” Holtfort said. “As opening night got closer, I got really nervous. Carlotta was a difficult role to sing. But all the nerves melted away on opening night.”
After a very busy rehearsal timeline, the week that the show opened, affectionately known in the theatre world as hell week, arrived for the cast and crew of Phantom.
“Show week is always rough,” Gray said. “You are torn between trying to stay on top of school work and then feeling worried and excited for the show. I always feel like show week lasts forever but is over before you know it.”
Just as everything was coming to a crescendo for the week of show, director Christine Hathcock was unable to direct until after the play. As they say, the show must go on, and it did. The director who retired last year, Jerry Blake, stepped in for the remainder of the show to see the production through. With the assistance of Blake and the adaptivity of the students, the show made it through hell week and was ready to open.
“The day of the show was filled with excitement,” Gray said. “The whole day it is the only thing you can think about. The dressing room seems to be buzzing with electricity and everyone is running around doing last minute things and hair and makeup.”
After rehearsing for an empty auditorium, preparing mentally to perform what you’ve dedicated significant time and work to in front of a crowd of people can be daunting, according to junior Luke Williamson who played the lead romantic interest Raoul the Vicomte de Changy in the show.
“The first night I’m typically running on adrenaline,” Williamson said. “After that I start to feel more comfortable in general, and get a lot less stressed.”
Holtfort describes what a show weekend is like.
“Makeup, vocal warm up, costume, circle, take it all off, repeat the next day,” Holtfort said. “It’s so fun, though. You get to be around your theatre family and get excited for the show together.”
Once all the wigs were sufficiently bobby pinned, microphones taped and voices warmed, the show was in the hands of the students. Unlike band or choir, once everyone is in position on stage the directors have no more control of the performance.
“It gets kind of tense backstage during a show,” Holtfort said. “I personally replay scenes over and over making sure I didn’t mess up too bad and get in the game for the next time I go onstage. Everyone is running around and doing things in their own little worlds, but together at the same time.”
On stage there’s a continuous story, backstage there’s a multitude of working parts. On stage and off stage can be like two different worlds, according to the cast and crew.
“Backstage is always crazy,” Gray said. “Between scenes there is always a quick change going on. There were even quick changes with seven dancers changing at the same time or three girls changing from ball gowns into tutus within a matter of seconds.”
The backstage workings of the show are critical to the show the audience sees. And things don’t always go as rehearsed. As the saying goes, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
“One night the phantom’s mask broke mid show and everybody was running around trying to fix it,” Gray said. “One moment that really stuck out to me backstage is when someone lost the string to their corset and was about to go on stage, a techie took off their shoelace to lace it and get her on stage.”
Once the final curtain is drawn, the set is taken apart, and the costumes are hung and packed away, the life of the musical is not over. Now in it’s third year, the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards, or GAHSMTAs, bring high school theatre departments of the greater Austin area together for some friendly competition. In a Tony awards style show, schools’ productions can be nominated and win awards in categories such as best direction and best actor in a leading role.
“We, as a cast, received a lot of good feedback for our performance,” Williamson said. “So I really hope we get nominated for all sorts of stuff, I really think we deserve it.”
The GAHSMTA award ceremony is held downtown at the Long Center, red carpet included.
“I am so excited for this years GAHSMTA’s,” Gray said. “It is one of my favorite events. It is so fun to be able to dress up and see friends from other schools, and see the schools selected to perform. It is such a great thing that GAHSMTA has found a way to bring schools together.”