Arts & Entertainment

McLean HS Theatre Preps for Scottish Stage




827mcleantheatre.jpgAfter graduating from McLean High School in 1970, theatre arts teacher and director Denise Perrino never imagined that she would now be teaching students of her own on the same stage she had performed on as a teenager – students who, more importantly, have just been asked to perform on a stage halfway across the globe.

After graduating from McLean High School in 1970, theatre arts teacher and director Denise Perrino never imagined that she would now be teaching students of her own on the same stage she had performed on as a teenager – students who, more importantly, have just been asked to perform on a stage halfway across the globe.

“It says something special about our program and about the community when you have achieved a certain amount of acknowledgement and your work is so well-respected,” said Perrino.

A letter came across Perrino’s desk last year informing her and her students they’d been nominated to perform at the American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF) in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perrino, whose past students were nominated and accepted a few times prior, had never before felt the department was fully prepared to take on the task.

“Certainly we had the talent because we got nominated and accepted, however it is a huge undertaking,” said Perrino.

The enthusiasm of her younger students this time around convinced her that the timing was right. So in the mail went the school’s 12-page application along with pictures and video of productions from the past five years, documenting not so much the here-and-now product, but what Perrino calls “the process leading up to and including the product.” Each year an AHSTF panel, comprised of college theatre professionals from across the U.S., review applications based on a theatre group’s community involvement, recent bodies of work, awards and more. This year the panel liked what they saw and invited the McLean H.S. theatre department to perform at the Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world.

Nearly 15 McLean H.S. students and at least three adult chaperones will head to London, England and then Edinburgh for a 12-day stay at Queen Margaret University, during which time the students will perform four shows next August. Perrino says one the newest challenges will be taking the show on the road.

“We’re going to be taking an ensemble piece where the kids will be playing lots of different parts, changing their costumes pieces, and along those lines, not focusing on sets or big costume pieces or props, but more on the actor,” said Perrino.

Administrative protocol presented additional hoops through which Perrino had to jump in order to take a handful of students out of the country, the same students whose prior trip to Orlando’s Disney World was the furthest they’d ever traveled to perform.

Perrino said that up until recently, Fairfax County Public Schools had a ban on international travel, which they lifted sometime last year. Perrino joked that she proposed the idea as an “unusual field trip,” explaining why they’d be going, what the kids were going to experience, how much it was going to cost and how the theatre department planned on raising the fare.

“The first step was to go to the school here and our principal, Dr. Jackson, is great. She’s such an advocate for the arts, absolutely fabulous, and was just so excited when we were asked to go,” said Perrino.827mcleantheatre.jpg

Once the paperwork saw the likes of many desks throughout its hierarchy of the sign-off process, the MHS theatre department’s next task was raising the funds to get them to the Scottish stage. Doing a brief summer fundraiser through Antonelli’s pizza and more to come in the fall, Perrino said her goal is for the department to raise half of the cost it will take for each interested student to attend, with the other half being matched by their parents. MHS theatre, fully supported by ticket sales, is new to the fundraising scene, though Perrino said she’s already seen the unity it’s encouraged among the students.

“It’s kind of cool because it’s bringing the group together and encouraging them to ask themselves what their goals are and what they want to do,” said Perrino.

Already, a group of students has approached Perrino with a formed committee to work hand in hand with her in ironing out the details, demonstrating their ability as self-starters, and for Perrino, “exactly what you want in theatre.” She said their well-rounded focus sets them apart from the pack of local schools, praising them for their performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and being able to understand the nuances and the movement of such an advanced piece.

Perrino, who studied Theatre Arts at Catawba College, and taught theatre at other local schools for nearly 30 years, is no stranger to the stage herself and will soon be inducted into Catawba’s Hall of Fame. However, she was glad to find herself back at home at MHS.

“I always had very happy memories of McLean High and I was ready to come back to the high school level of theatre,” said Perrino. “It just happened to be where I had spent so much of my time growing up.”

She beamed at the thought when speaking of all of the emails she still receives from past students, filling her in on where they’re at now. Winner of two prestigious Helen Hayes awards for Best Supporting Actress, Kate Eastwood Norris, who Perrino taught during her stay at Oakton High School, is just one of the many students that have gone on to bigger stages and other careers in the spotlight.

“It’s not necessarily that you have a lot of Kates but it’s something about theatre arts – the working together, the problem solving, the creativeness – it kind of sets you up for the rest of your life,” said Perrino.

She hopes their trip to Scotland will do its part in preparing her current students for the real world, showing them that the world is “not just about them and there’s lots of different ways of looking at things.”

“It’s a huge opportunity and it’s going to be a lot of work,” said Perrino. “But it’s also going to be a trip of a lifetime.”

This fall McLean H.S. kicks off its drama season with a performance of “Romeo and Juliet” on the weekend before Thanksgiving break.

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