Musical theater thrives in Hamilton schools

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By Linda Dillman
Editor-in-chief

A scene from the 1995 Hamilton local schools production of “Peter Pan”, directed by Mark Frazier.

Music still fills Mark Frazier’s life four years after his retirement from local Hamilton schools in 2017 after spending 31 years as a conductor and 22 years during the same period as a district music director.

Frazier began with productions in college, including “The Wizard of Oz”, “Charlotte’s Web” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Then, in 1995, he was asked to start an annual school district musical.

Today, on an after-school contract, he continues to direct seventh graders through senior students in Hamilton’s annual musical, often directing 50 to 75 cast and crew, as well as a production team and 15 to 20 adult volunteers.

“Over the past 31 productions, I’ve worked with just under 2,000 students,” said Frazier, who has directed five college musicals and 26 district productions. “The only year we didn’t produce a show was last year because of COVID. “

The selection process for the next show begins approximately seven months before opening night. For Frazier, it starts in September with research into possible musicals. In November, he gets district approval and the rights from the company that owns the copyright to the show.

“A lot of things go into the selection process,” Frazier said. “Can we sing? Can we get the rights? Can we technically handle the show? Can we fund the show and is it age appropriate for our students? Finally, is this a production that would appeal to the community?

In December, before the start of the winter break, Frazier starts the show’s casting cycle again, followed by rehearsals Monday through Friday starting in January. The construction of the sets takes place on weekends.

“There are a lot of different things that I love about the musical,” Frazier said. “First, looking at how the cast and crew grow in their roles and responsibilities. Second, bringing a script to life. Third, there’s the great staff and group of volunteers I work with. Finally, working with the cast and crew keeps me young.

Funding for a large-scale production comes from profits from the previous year’s production ticket sales and proceeds from a theater parents organization, a treat sale, a concession stand and community and business donations.

“We couldn’t make these musicals without our wonderful parents and community volunteers,” Frazier said. We have many volunteers who continue to help even though their child has graduated from high school. They do a lot of important jobs: sewing, set construction, painting, lighting, sound, costumes, fundraising, ticket sales and a concession stand. “

Frazier said that all productions have their own special challenges, such as 1995’s “Peter Pan” due to the flying actors and a very large cast. Another was “Shrek” in 2019 due to technical difficulties and “West Side Story” due to the large amount of dancing required.

The move from a 1939 stage shared with the sports department and a tech box with limited viewing changed things for the better when a state-of-the-art auditorium opened in 2009 after the construction of a new high school.

“When designing the stage and auditorium, we wanted a space that could be used by the entire neighborhood for concerts, meetings, school presentations and the musical,” said Frazier. “When the building opened, the performing arts wing included a flight space, control room, dressing rooms, orchestra pit, stage store, garage doors, new lighting. and sounds and more storage. It is also good that the carpentry shop, music room, and choir room are located near, rather than at the other end of the building. The only thing I miss about the old building is its history and the amount of backstage space we had.

While continuing to play in the old building – which did not have the benefit of air conditioning – the exhaust fans cooled the auditorium during intermission. During a performance, the fans were off, but a set of shutters did not close. A storm set in, with pouring rain and intense winds and rain started to blow over the audience and the orchestra. Dressed in a suit and tie, Frazier crawled onto the roof with a stapler and tarp.

“I tied the tarp over the unclosed shutters as the show went on,” Frazier said. “I was completely drenched by the time I got off the roof. Then I had to go out for wet bows, but the orchestra and audience stayed dry. “

After the final salute, the storage of costumes, props, furniture and sets used over the years is distributed among buildings in the neighborhood, including the old college. The costumes are stored in the cupboards of the dressing room and a room located on the stage. Sets are taken apart, reusable wood and hardware are stored, and some larger set pieces are stored in outdoor buildings.

The production dates for the 2022 musical (the show is still to be selected) are March 17 at 7 p.m. March 18 at 7 p.m. and March 19 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Ticket sales begin in early March. For more information, follow the Hamilton Local Schools website and / or Facebook page.

For more information on volunteering or for any other questions, call the high school at 614-491-8044 ext. 1800 and leave a voicemail message for Frazier.


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