Performance in the Round team brings magic, bugs, and music to Fenton High School

This Saturday, Feb. 3, the York speech team began their state series competition as tournament champions at Fenton High School. With the new level of competition comes the addition of another event, Performance in the Round (PIR). Under the direction of York teacher John Forsythe and alumni Caitlin McManus, the cast and crew have spent the month of January putting together a magical 15 minute version of the musical “James and the Giant Peach” that took home second at Saturday’s competition, advancing them to sectionals.

James (Jillian Caforio) encourages a reluctant Earthworm (Kevin Homan) to confront his fear to get the bugs out of a sticky situation.

The musical “James and the Giant Peach” was originally performed at York during the fall in 2015, and many people involved in the PIR production were already familiar with the story. However, because PIR is performed “in the round,” there was the challenge of translating such a massive production into a 16’ circle.

“I liked James and the Giant Peach when I saw it as an audience member, but now that I’m actually in the show, I get to live and be a part of that,” said senior Kevin Homan, who plays Earthworm. “We’re creating something new, all of us together, and I really enjoy that.”

While creating something new has been a challenge, the team has been lucky enough to carry over elements from the original production into the new PIR. The costumes from the 2015 production, created by a Broadway costume designer, add another level of magic to the performance. Sophomore Amy Vincent and senior Anna Triska helped to costume the show, bringing in new costume pieces along with the old. Senior Madds Buckley has also adapted some of the music from the full musical into smaller sections that she plays throughout the piece.

“Music is really really important to the show James and the Giant Peach because it’s so whimsical and out there, words simply aren’t enough to describe what’s going on around you,” Buckley said. “It’s basic in classic musical theater – when words are not enough, you have to use music to push the story forward.”

Throughout the show, orange umbrellas are used to represent the growth and travels of the peach as it goes from the beaches of Brighton to the top of the Empire State Building.

Along with music, a four-person ensemble has worked along with alumni Caitlin McManus to use dance and movement to tell the story. The four girls take on many different characters throughout the course of the 15-minute performance, anywhere from slithering crocodile tongues to the Empire State Building.

“Movement really influences a lot of the plot and helps to move it along, especially with the ensemble members,” freshman CeCe Lampa said. “Movement is how we express our emotions and convey a lot of important ideas to the audience.”

Ensemble members form the peach tree (CeCe Lampa, Lucy Valeski) and slithering crocodile tongues (Tanya Guerrero, Emma Taylor) in a rehearsal of “James and the Giant Peach.”

McManus has been crucial in choreographing these many characters for the girls, and is excited to be back at York as a part of this experience.

“My favorite part about coming back to York to work on James and the Giant Peach is seeing all the things that I learned in this program when I was all of your ages and how that all gets synthesized with the rest of the experiences you have after high school,” McManus said. “Seeing all of you guys and remembering what the theatre program was like when I was here – it’s very cool and I’m very inspired by all the things you guys bring.”

After their work to prepare, the team took home second at the Fenton tournament, advancing them to sectionals. They will be working this week to perfect their piece, and hope to travel to Peoria to perform at state. But whether or not they advance, the experience of working and learning during the production of this show will be what the team values most about this experience.

“I think meeting new people has been my favorite part,” said junior Holly Goodwin, who plays Spider. “Whenever you work with such a small cast it really gives you the chance to get close to your cast members in such a small space and doing something new.”