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Rachel Kern singing "Get Out and Stay Out" in Milton Area High School's 2018 production of "9 to 5." Photo by Tim Vasey

The school year is in full swing, and now is the time that area theater directors are reviewing cast potentials for Ray of Light productions. 

Sponsored by the Community Theatre League, the Ray of Light Awards is an annual celebration of the arts in Central Pennsylvania. The awards celebrate and recognize outstanding achievements by high school students in the dramatic arts. 

Some may wonder exactly what goes into choosing productions for high school theater. Steve Aguirre, theater director for Milton Area School District, offered some insights into how he chooses the production for his student cast. 

Last year was Aguirre’s first year directing the musical for Milton Area High School. He considered the roster of students he expected to have, and whether or not the students would enjoy and learn from the process of producing the musical. Stepping into a new situation as a first-year director brought its own challenge, most notably, what would be the talent pool? 

Aguirre answered that challenge by holding auditions first, then choosing the musical. “This helped us nail the perfect musical for the cast we had, which was ‘9 to 5.’” Knowing the kids involved was foundational to choosing an appropriate show, and it paid off. Milton Area High School was nominated for several Ray of Light awards. 

Becoming a director

Every new venture has a starting point. For Aguirre, the beginning was not in the auditorium, but in the classroom; he was hired to be an ESL Aide/translator for the high school. A chance meeting when Aguirre was working in Allentown as a camp counselor at an after-school program lead to the aide position at the High School.

“That fall,” said Aguirre, after he had taken the job at Milton Area High School, “I noticed the Spring musical director position was posted as vacant, so I applied.” Going into year two, momentum for his program is building. The Fall play, “Harvey” is already in the works. Aguirre will be co-directing with the MAHS English teacher, Lauren Finnerty. Auditions have already been held and rehearsals will begin soon, with production dates scheduled for November 14 and 15, 2019. 

The Spring musical has also already been chosen and approved. “The Addams Family Musical” has already made a mark on the students. “They can't stop listening to the Broadway soundtrack of Addams Family,” says Aguirre. “The community knows the Addams Family, so expect some great laughs and nostalgia for those who grew up with the Addams'!” Rehearsals will begin after the New Year with the show opening in April. 

When asked about highlights from last year, Aguirre had quite a few that stood out. The pride in his cast, including the leading ladies was apparent. “Rachel Kern singing ‘Get Out and Stay Out,’ an 11th-hour knockout solo that brought down the house every night,” Aguirre said.  

“Aubrey Chappell, any time she sang at all,” he continued. “She had two solos, ‘Heart to Hart’ and ‘5 to 9.’ Aubrey has the voice of someone who should be on the radio. What a hidden gem of talent Central Pa. has in her!”

Continued Aguirre, “Emma Criswell, who played the character based on Dolly Parton, had a rant in Act 1 where she gives her sexist, egotistical boss, Mr. Hart, a piece of her mind. It was an extremely wordy and intense diatribe, and by the end of it, the audience was roaring in approval and applause.”

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Emma Criswell in her Act 1 rant that brought the audience to tears of laughter during her performance in "9 to 5." Photo by Tim Vasey

Ray of Lights is scheduled for May 22, 2020 at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport after judges spend the school year searching for the best and brightest performers in high schools within 40 miles of the Community Theater League in Wiliamsport. 

It’s what all the performers look forward to, walking the red carpet to their very own awards show.