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March 7, 2022

By Clare Mottola, Chair, Fieldston Theatre and Dance Department

On Friday 3/4 and Saturday 3/5, Fieldston Upper students performed a special production of “Chicago” on the Fieldston auditorium stage. Over the course of several months, nearly 50 students worked together — both behind-the-scenes and on the stage — to make this production a reality. The success of the show reflects the tremendous work of the entire company.

Ahead of the production, I had the pleasure of engaging with several members of our company about their experiences, hopes, and thoughts about our work. I invite you to take a moment to enjoy a behind-the-scenes look into their process and their reflections on the show.

What excites you most about our production of “Chicago?”

“After two years without live theatre, it has been such a gift to be in person again! No more forgetting to unmute, but rather the dangerous thrill of forgetting your lines in rehearsal. To be able to act, sing, and dance with one another — feeding off of each other — is something I think we have all craved. What is so exciting about this production is that we are pulling out all the stops: We are bringing vaudeville, burlesque, with a cirque-vibe, taking the words off the page and manifesting them in an in-person, three-dimensional world. ‘Chicago’ is one of my favorite musicals and it is such an honor to play Velma for my senior year at ECFS in such a monumental production,” says Sarafina B. ’22, she/her.

“Our production gives you a new perspective on how things can be done. Something that is also really unique about working on the Fieldston Upper musical is that you really feel this sense of a community and family. You start making connections with people you would have never even talked to on the first day of school and you start to have a lot more friends. And as a 9th Grader, you are really able to open up and be comfortable asking older students questions that you have about high school. You start to feel more comfortable as you slowly close your first year of high school,” says Chloe J. ’25, she/her.

“I am so excited to be a part of one of the first on-campus shows since lockdown. Because of COVID-19, we have had some setbacks, but it hasn’t stopped us,” says Susie H. ’25, she/her.

“The vaudeville aspects of this show are what distinguishes ‘Chicago’ from what I picture as a traditional musical. Seeing the deliberate undertones and carefully placed specifics come together to inspire the ‘Chicago’ experience makes me sure of our work,” says Emmett L. ’23, he/him.

What is one thing about working on the Fieldston Upper musical that is unique or special to you?

“This is my first Fieldston Upper musical and even in the first rehearsal, I could tell how excited people were to do this project. The community that we have built in just a couple of months is amazing. We really have become a family,” says Susie.

“Coming from an athletics background, the freedom to be creative with my work is a welcome challenge,” says Emmett.

“This production has been really emotional for me. I am acutely aware that I am a senior and this is my last production here at ECFS. The campus closed in March of 2020, during my sophomore year. I missed out on one and a half years of in-person performances. I missed it all so much. I missed the nervous feeling in my stomach during auditions, the boldness during rehearsals, the exhaustion and excitement during tech week, the anticipation in the wings before the performance, the sadness and pride during final bows. I am so grateful that I get to feel all of those feelings again during my senior year with friends new and old, and with Clare, Deb, Dhari, and Ava guiding and pushing us. Every person, every moment, and every feeling has been so special to me. I am forming memories I will cherish and keep in my heart forever,” says Sarafina.

How has this process helped you grow as an artist, a person, and a student?

“I think personally, this experience has helped me grow as an artist a lot, in a sense that there is more than one way to do something,” says Chloe.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I would go to the theatre and be totally entranced in the world presented to me. I was mesmerized by the music, choreography, costumes, and set design. What I love the most about doing theatre is being able to give that feeling to someone else. As Velma, I seduce the audience into a world of grungy glamour, fame, intrigue, and murder. Anyone who knows me knows that I value kindness, heart, and integrity beyond almost anything. How can I dive into an over-the-top starlet murderess and make her worthy of empathy? Velma is an injured woman who, instead of breaking, builds hardness around her heart. One of the biggest gifts I am taking away from this experience is being able to dress Velma up with my own value system and decide when to let those values come out, without making the role different. I found a strength I forgot I had,” says Sarafina.

“This is my first time doing a full-blown production, so this opportunity to explore new sides of myself expands my set of interests and teaches me lessons that I can transfer to other parts of my life,” says Emmett.

What do you hope audiences will respond to when they see our production of “Chicago?”

“Something that is really exciting about our production is that it’s not the sexy, glamorous version of ‘Chicago.’ I think Clare made a very conscious decision to make this show gross and raw where we are [portraying] murderers and that it shouldn’t be justified just because they are women. I am really excited to see how the audience reacts to that and how they feel at the end of the play, ” says Chloe.

“I hope that people respect the hard work that the whole team put into this production and that they are inspired to explore music or the performing arts, even if it’s just to gauge if that’s something they could have any interest in,” says Emmett.

“It is necessary to ask: What is there to learn from such a dreary representation of who we are as a human race, as a species? At the end of the show, the audience hears ‘you can like the life you’re living, you can live the life you like.’ At the end of the day, these are the choices. This call to action snaps the audience out of the surreal vaudevillian experience that is our production. The agency is now in the hands of the audience — will we continue to perpetuate cycles of gross injustice and systemic manipulation, or will we, as individuals and a society, clean up our act?” Says Ines M. ’22, she/her.

“Bertolt Brecht believed that theatre should make the audience get up and want to make change in the world. I hope this production of ‘Chicago’ will inspire that on many levels while provoking emotional engagement. Maybe it will make you question the media and its perception of women. Maybe it will make you angry at the incarceration system. Maybe it will make you question what is performative and what is sincere. Maybe it will make you love someone a little deeper, and maybe that person is you. Maybe you will want to be more kind and respectful to others. Maybe you leave feeling powerful and hopeful,” says Sarafina.