Wyandot Middle School drama club students rehearse for their upcoming performance of “Annie Jr.” 

Wyandot Middle School drama club students rehearse for their upcoming performance of “Annie Jr.” 

Photo provided by Leann French

Wyandot Middle School drama club exhibits ‘transformative power of live theater’

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 20, 2019


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Wyandot Middle School’s drama club is ready to put its spin on another classic musical.

After performing “Beauty and the Beast” last year, the only middle school drama club in the entire school district will perform “Annie Jr.” as this year’s annual musical. It is an abridged version of the full-length show, with a running time of about 1 1/2 hours.

A total of 55 students are participating, including 35 cast members and 10 crew members.

Performances are at 7 p.m. May 24 and 25 at the Chippewa Valley High School auditorium, 18300 19 Mile Road in Clinton Township. Tickets cost $8 and can be purchased online at www.cvchoirs.seatyourself.biz or at the door.

Wyandot drama and language arts teacher Leann French first became involved in the drama club in 2013, when shows were performed in Wyandot’s cafeteria to audiences comprising of about 250 people. Once performances moved to CVHS, she felt the venue added “legitimacy” to the endeavors, leading to such shows as “Seussical Jr.” and “Mulan Jr.”

Former Wyandot drama students return year after year, like CVHS senior and assistant director Johnny Serra, who was a three-year drama student at Wyandot.

He’s not the only former member to return. This year’s choreographer, high school freshman Stella Merpi, performed in every show for three years running while at Wyandot. Other Wyandot alumni have served as makeup and hair stylists, ushers, set builders, backstage helpers, and light and sound technicians.

Several former Wyandot drama tech crew members are even now employed by the school district as auditorium technicians.

French said she would never be able to put on a show of this scale without people like Tammy Palazzolo, the “talented” musical director, or CVS auditorium director Shawn Polito, who elevates technical aspects of the musical.

“Parents and Wyandot drama alumni also do so much for the program,” French said. “There is a small army of volunteers led by parent volunteer coordinator Lisa Serra. She organizes the dozens of parents who graciously share their time and talents to make the show possible.

“They cover everything: donating snacks, promoting the show, taking photos, assembling the programs, preparing and serving meals during tech week … the list goes on and on. It is truly a group effort.”

Serra threw some compliments right back in French’s direction.

“Leann puts her heart and soul into directing each musical, which then inspires the students to do the same,” she said. “She motivates them through positive reinforcement and constant encouragement. She provides a safe, fun environment for students to build confidence while exploring the performing arts. Leann is truly making a difference in these students’ lives.”

The social aspect of being theater kids leads to the building of what French called “tremendous bonds,” due to the amount of time everyone spends together. For kids in this particular age group, she said “the transformative power of live theater is remarkable.”

“There is a lot of joy and laughter at rehearsals, but it’s so much more than that,” French said. “Students learn important skills which will serve them for the rest of their lives. They are learning to collaborate, to think critically and to effectively communicate.

“And most importantly, this process helps students gain confidence while creating something special. Students who normally would never speak out in a classroom find their voices, and they make meaningful friendships along the way. To me, that’s the best part.”