There’s a place for high school musical theater
Now in its 21st year, the Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre continues to provide quality theater performances while also providing additional experience for high school age actors and those who work behind the stage.
Supplementing the work they do in their own high schools was the original goal when Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre was first formed in 1999 by Kirby Volz and Janette Walsh, two educators who had already shared their love of theater with high school students for many years.
Volz served as the director of the program and the shows until last year, bringing in one of his students from North Side, Andrew Sherman, to fill his shoes. While Volz is still active, serving as executive producer and helping with marketing, Sherman has assumed many of Volz’s responsibilities.
From student to director
“I’m really a product of this program,” Sherman said. “I’ve been part of it for 12 years and took the opportunity to get a lot of experience. I was a student, an actor, I worked on the crew. Even after growing out of it, I still wanted to be involved and continued to work on productions. I’ve been the assistant director for the last three years, and now I’m at the helm.”
The transition has been a smooth one, thanks to the long-standing friendship between Voz and Sherman.
“Kirby and I have a strong relationship,” Sherman said. “He’s really been my second father, and ever since we first worked together, we’ve made a good team. Any individual with an itch to direct and who assumes an assistant position — or an AD as we call it — absorbs what you can. You observe and take notes and be as helpful as you can in the creative process. Once I had fulfilled that obligation, I was ready for my directorial debut.”
Volz now teaches at South Side High School, and Sherman has followed Volz’s lead in education as well and teaches at Homestead.
Both schools have been helpful in the staging of this year’s Summer Music Theatre staging of West Side Story, with Homestead hosting rehearsals and South Side’s beautiful auditorium hosting the performances.
Sixty Students in the cast
Choosing this particular musical is the result of several factors, and it is part of a renewed focus on the future of the Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre.
“I wanted to do a show I was comfortable with, that I was familiar with,” Sherman said. “I was put into this show nine years ago so I know it, and talking to Kirby, our musical director Ben Wedler, and our choreographer Leslie Beauchamp, we chose this one over two other shows we’d never done before.
“There are a lot of pros and cons, things to consider, like the size of the show, and this show has a large cast. We also chose it by name recognition, and there’s a lot of talk right now about the new film version that’s going to be coming out. And it has a really relevant story that applies to any time period in terms of social, economic, and diversity issues.”
Sherman admits that recent productions of the summer shows have seen waning attendance. For many years, the program performed during the Three Rivers Festival and were listed among official festival events.
But the competition of so many other opportunities for entertainment led them to reevaluate that timing and ultimately pushed the performances to the end of June. But that has led to its own challenges for a production that features high school students and is helmed by high school teachers.
“We have 60 in the cast and had 83 audition for the show,” he said. “In part, the cuts were made based on who had conflicts. But as we were heading from our rehearsals at Homestead into the rehearsals at South Side where we’ll be performing, we ran into graduations and graduation parties, and you have to let the kids do that. So we had to work around those conflicts as much as we could because we have 57 students in this production.”
You can’t stop the beat
The program also looks to provide opportunities for students to work in shows that Sherman said some theater departments and high schools might find “unsuitable,” and the FWSMT has tackled some big titles in recent years like Rent, Hairspray, and Sweeney Todd.
The program is also trying to reach out to more schools in the area. Sherman is pleased by the number of school represented in the cast.
“We really can cast the best from all the schools, and this year all but one school in town is represented,” Sherman said. “We have 19 high schools and three middle schools represented in the show, including three from Huntington North and six from Leo.
“We’re really trying to branch out to all the high schools in the surrounding areas. We’d never be able to do a show as big as West Side Story if it weren’t for the number of students that we can cast from our area high schools.”
Come to the Cabaret
Also coming up for the program are their annual cabaret performances, a series which serves as a fundraiser and which will be growing by one more production this year.
With the now traditional summer cabaret and Christmas cabaret already popular, this fall a Halloween cabaret will join the schedule for the first time. Details for those are still pending.
In the meantime, Sherman looks forward not only to this summer’s production of West Side Story but to the future of Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre and promises to lead as its director for many years to come.
“We’ve celebrated our first 20 years and with the program this year we’re ready to take off for the next 20 years,” he said. “We have a healthy program and have strong support from the community. It’s all moving in the right direction.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original story included erroneous information about the times, prices, and contact info for the show.