Behind the Scenes of Shaker Theaters Jazz and Pizzaz


March 12, 2020 was a fateful day for the students of Shaker High School. A fateful day for many. For some it was great news to learn that school would be shut down for the next “two weeks”. For others, it was an unwavering feeling of despair. 

Community is important for the survival of anything with a purpose, a call to change. Shutdown for those within these communities at Shaker was like a laugh in the face. 

The Shaker Theater Department was hit hard, extremely hard. Only a week from Tech Week– after months of hard work, long rehearsals, and endless choreography– Chicago was never performed. 

There were many questions during the upcoming Hybrid year. A year full of confusion and uncertainty. Many clubs were unable to meet as often and were quickly losing traction and motivation within the members of these clubs, some unable to meet at all. Questions arose from those within the Music Department about whether there would be any movement within the Theater Department. Small sparks of hope over simply being able to stand on stage lit a flame for these students. 

The Shaker Theater Workshop was the solution. It was not like the previous years of Shaker theater, but it was something that kept students interested in performing. 

The Workshop consisted of weekly virtual Tuesday meetings and bi-weekly in- person meetings on Friday. The meetings were open to any student who wanted to take part and learn more about the writing process and how to transform that into their acting on stage. 

Unlike the usual fast pace of a normal year of theater rehearsals, students were given the opportunity to study the writing. They were encouraged to discover “what the character wants” and take that discovery and build from it using not only the surrounding text, but things that were left unsaid. Students were then given the chance to use their analysis of the text and character and perform it to the best of their ability. 

One of the harder assignments that actors were given was to find a piece of musical writing, analyze the text, and then perform it. This was a challenging task for actors, especially due to the fact that they already knew how the original actor of the piece had acted it out. Actors were challenged to create their own version of the character that was reminiscent of them as the actor, while staying true to the intentions and wants of the character. 

The Workshop, although not a normal Shaker Theater experience, was something that not only inspired hope among these budding actors, but left them with amazing analysis skills that would help them in the upcoming auditions. 

Come late September of 2021 posters were on the halls of Shaker informing the student population of auditions for the fall play Olympiaganza, a comedic retelling of Greek Mythology written by Don Zolidis. 

There was an air of timidness around the news of the production, —memories of the last production that got shutdown before it’s debut, —but there was also excitement and determination within the new cast and eventually the crew of Olympiaganza. 

Rehearsals were as normal as they could be with three feet social distancing and mask wearing being mandatory. Long rehearsals became the norm and phrases like “set the stage!” and “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” were comforts to the actors. 

Work ethic was different and there were many encouraging talks from the director, co-assistant directors and the cast and crew themselves. Community was slowly being built once again within the Theater department. 

Cast and crew themselves had said that they felt like part of a family. They looked forward to rehearsals despite how long and draining they could be because it was a safe place for them. They could go to rehearsals and know that they would be seen as equals among their peers. Acceptance was something that wasn’t even questioned, everyone was welcomed. 

Tech Week is a week full of hard and long rehearsals; a make it or break it week. The Cast and Crew either get very close or they get catty and break under the stress of it all. The cast of Olympiaganza took Tech Week in stride and used it as an opportunity to become closer to each other. There were frequent talks in the Green Room, group chats, and plans to hangout were made. 

The Community that was built within the cast of Olympiaganza wasn’t just due to the success of the show, but because there was a genuine want to get to know each other and become a little family that has inside jokes and ridiculous pictures of each other. 

The Crew also developed a little family within the family that the cast had already built. Many of the cast and crew have said that being able to have a place to go to where you know others share your passion is encouraging and reassuring. “Being part of something much larger than yourself and contributing to that is just great in general.”

These young actors and crew members are beyond passionate about Shaker Theater and took what scraps they were given at the start of the production and built something absolutely beautiful. 

I asked the seniors of the production to leave a quote, these following quotes not only reflect on them as people, but also the community within our Theater Department. 

“If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” -Paddington 

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” -Dr. Suess 

“Lots of fun.”

I’ve never had stage fright. It wasn’t until my final show of my senior year that I was overwhelmed with a sense of horror. It wasn’t from fear of being embarrassed in front of others, or fear of failure, it was more like homesickness. Because that’s what the Shaker Theater Department has become for me. It is a place for students to become the best versions of themselves. I have been fortunate enough to meet the most incredible and inspiring people and am forever grateful for the opportunities the past four years have given me. So as I graduate, I will be thinking back on everything I have been through and hoping for others to fall in love with theater, grow and inspire others in their time here at Shaker.”

Community is important for the survival of anything with a purpose. Shaker Theater could not be where it is today without the communities of past and present productions. The department of theater may have been at a stalemate, but it’s back stronger and better than it was before.