Frank Portanova, Archbishop Stepinac High School
Years in director’s seat: 11.
Best reason to join the musical: At the all-boys Catholic high school, female cast members are recruited from schools across the area.
“Well, the boys would say, ‘the girls,’ and vice versa. But I suspect they are more motivated by the sense of community and teamwork the musical inspires. The camaraderie and sense of family that develops on stage and off stage is awesome.”
How the musical changes kids: “Undoubtedly, it develops their self-confidence and builds their self-esteem. It’s amazing to watch them grow from insecure, naive, quiet freshmen into mature well-spoken young men and women who have a strong sense of their priorities in life. The confidence they have gained is illustrated in how poised they now are off the stage. Furthermore, the musicals for so many of the kids serve as milestone moments. Even to this day when I see alumni of the program, they chart their high school experience and even the trajectory of their lives by the musical performed during a respective school year.”
How kids change directors: “Each year, they restore some of the innocence of it all. Doing it year after year, sometimes you can lose that certain sense of wonder. But after one rehearsal of seeing the gleam in their eyes, the spirit is always renewed and replenished — it’s magical! In addition, the kids are very savvy with their own ideas about staging, characterization and tone, so it’s sometimes humbling and thrilling to hear their ideas. Furthermore, they do not hesitate about questioning motivation or the purposefulness of certain elements. This keeps you on your toes! Finally, they always hold your team and each other to a high standard of excellence.”
Most memorable moment: “Too many. During a production of ‘South Pacific,’ we invited all the veterans in our community to see the show. The show was staged as a flashback and took place in the present time at a memorial for veterans. The last scene had every cast member onstage — seabees, nurses, soldiers, officers, marines — in a tableau with a candle in the middle. I recall standing in the back of the auditorium, and a veteran was seated in the second to last row. He stood with them as tears ran down his face.”
Wish I knew it sooner: “When I first began, I was terrible at delegating and hesitated asking for help. Now, my philosophy is the more the merrier. It’s great to have so many people share in putting the production together. Not only is it more productive, but it is much more fun — and there are a lot more shoulders to cry on and a lot more laughs to be had!”
— Reporting by Bill Cary; photo by Matt Brown