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Area high school students unleash the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street” on Fort Wayne
Students’ hard work and dedication make the Summer Music Theater thrive
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Theater is a cut-throat business. Just ask any actor. And Fort Wayne audiences can see just how wicked things can get on stage when the Summer Music Theater, an organization made up of area high school students, serves up Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim’s popular take on the legend of the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” on June 24th and 25th.
Performances in the past have included Footloose, Grease, and the area’s first local production of Les Miserables, but Sweeney Todd is probably the Summer Music Theater’s most ambitious production to date. Those familiar with the play might think it’s a tall order for high schoolers, and Kirby Volz — a drama teacher in Fort Wayne Community Schools for 21 years (he currently teaches drama and speech at Northside) who co-founded the Summer Music Theater program seven years ago with fellow teacher Janette Walsh — is the first to admit that this musical isn’t easy. Certain elements in the score are usually associated with opera, forcing performers and the orchestra to stay on their toes. “It is very difficult music,” Volz says. “It’s not opera, but it’s got some very tricky melodies, and he (Sondheim) switches time signatures and keys right in the middle of a measure.”
But the students in Summer Music Theater are there because they’re serious about their work, and up for the challenge. “These kids are the kind of kids that just love to do theater,” Volz says. “Sometimes, I’m sure people think ‘oh my God, why are you doing these ambitious shows with kids?’ But you challenge kids to do tough math problems, you challenge them to write long research papers or big science projects. Why not challenge them to be good actors? You’re doing kids a disservice if you’re not pushing them.”
There are 34 students from 12 area schools in the program this year, plus orchestra members and stagehands. Volz says they don’t turn anyone away — if they’re willing to work and learn, they have something for them to do. “We did this to give kids an opportunity in the summer time to perform, because a lot of times the theaters in the community the Civic or IPFW is more geared towards an adult cast,” he says.
The program runs about five weeks, and those weeks are pretty packed. They rehearse every Monday through Friday, from 3 pm to 6:30 pm, but practicing for the big show isn’t all their required to do. The Summer Music Theater started as a summer school program, but four years ago, it fell victim to budget cuts at Fort Wayne Community Schools. Volz and Walsh plowed on, securing permission to keep offering the Summer Music Theater if they could get funding for it. Since then, money for royalties, materials and personnel has come from a number of different sources, like the “Adopt An Actor” program, where students find two people to sponsor them for $20 each, and car washes, and whatever donations they can find. “It’s hard, because you’re asking kids for all this rehearsal time, but then also on Saturdays, we have to take time to wash cars or fund raise,” says Volz.
He adds that he’s also found support, financial and otherwise, from many of the theater organizations in town. “IPFW has been awesome, Civic Theater has been awesome, Stoners has been awesome… everybody (in the theater community) has just been really, really helpful. We’re all in the same field, and they realize these kids are their future.”
Summer Music Theater presents
June 24 & 25 at 7:30 pm
Elmhurst High School, 3829 Sandpoint Road