It Takes a Village
By Shaun LaRose, Upper School Fine Arts Director & Art Teacher
Last September CCS Musical Production Manager and Upper School Spanish Teacher, Jamison Shimmel, made an auspicious visit to Nashville to register CCS in a statewide competition and evaluation of high school theatre productions. The primary goals of “The Nashville High School Musical Theatre Awards” or “Spotlight Awards” are to provide regional theatre programs (from the Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga areas) with feedback from performance evaluations by local theatre professionals. It offers an invaluable critique from industry experts and thus gives students insight into what merits a quality production and what strengths and weaknesses—be they back stage or on stage—can be celebrated or addressed. Additionally, students have the opportunity to see other thriving production teams, attend valuable workshops, and perform onstage at the Spotlight Awards festival itself at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. This was a long-time passion and goal for Shimmel who has sought theatre specific student participation in a competitive context since 2012.
This year’s CCS High School musical production of Meet Me in St. Louis, directed by Mary Catherine Schimpf, was reviewed by three professional adjudicators back in March. In April the cast watched a live, televised announcement for the regional nominations in the various categories. Our students erupted when the first name called was a nomination for Chattanooga Christian School. What followed was an inconceivable SEVEN total nominations including, Best Set Design, Standout Male Dancer, Best Direction, Best Choreography, Best Overall Tech, Best Ensemble, and Best Show. On May 12, CCS, a first time contestant in the Spotlight Awards, won THREE awards for Best Set, Best Ensemble, incredibly, Best Show in the region.
As Director of the Fine Arts at CCS, I often hear feedback from faculty, parents, and community members who relate our musical productions to those of Broadway, and they ask me what makes our standout program so exceptional. I was reminded this morning by our Theatre Director, Mary Catherine Schimpf, that all the categories for which CCS was awarded, including Best Show, are specific to a community endeavor rather than the celebration of one standout individual. What makes our program significant is the collective efforts and commitment to excellence shared by the many parts of a single production. For instance, our wonderful costuming that has bolstered the aesthetic of both Middle and High School productions has only been possible through the tireless efforts and endless volunteer hours of Beth Ann Green. Over the years, parent volunteers such as Bob Roden and Lindsay Paris have been at the helm of our incredible sets that outdo any typical high school production. Furthermore, staff members such as Art Teacher Lauren Leutwiler have created the highest quality of visual props, costume accessories, and set dressing. Most of all, we have a gifted and experienced Director who is adept at delegating ownership and big visions of what could be, as well as choreographing these many parts to create a masterful whole production.
Over the years, the CCS administration has continued to invest in our theatre program in significant ways. We have an incredibly supportive President and Upper School Head who have continued to allocate the resources and support needed to accomplish productions of this scale. In the past three years, our Upper School Head has created positions, such as Set Designer and Manager. Thus, our award for Best Set, thanks in great part to this new position and the expertise that Industrial Arts Teacher David Macallister brings to it. Additionally, as a result of these designated stipends, we have been staffed with gifted people like Kara Funke, who trains and coaches our vocalist and arranges and conducts our orchestras; Heath Austin, who manages our technical needs, lighting, and sound; and Jamison Shimmel, who provides administrative support and communication throughout the production process.
I find it apropos that the categories we were nominated for are reflective of these supportive measures and a collective investment in our program. Categories such as Best Ensemble, Best Set, and Best Overall Tech are specific to these areas for which our administration has dedicated support and our parents and volunteers have worked tirelessly. When I think about what it takes to make a production of this caliber successful, I am convinced that it takes the whole community. It takes the patience and grace of our Upper School Teachers as their students are coming in exhausted in the performing weeks. It takes parents who are supportive to pick up their kids at 10:30 each night after practice and who show up and bring food each rehearsal night for the cast. It takes a Director who fosters a love for craft and whose enthusiasm and work ethic are infectious. It takes students who give it everything they have, who practice tirelessly, and who prioritize this endeavor above other interests in their lives at times. And it takes the support of a whole community to show up—to value the experience and commit a night as an audience member. When I consider the question of what makes our musical theatre program so exceptional and what it takes, I am left with the only self-evident answer: It takes a village!