During the last weekend of January and the first weekend of February, the Washington Open Elementary School Drama Program is working with two children’s casts and one adult cast to perform “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” at Santa Clara High School’s theater. In this “tale as old as time,” a cruel Prince transforms into a Beast and on his road to redemption, he falls in love with Belle, the beautiful village bibliophile.
At Washington Open, a parent-participation school, parents who put their children in the school drama program must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours to support the production. Parent volunteer jobs include set building, sourcing and making props, designing costumes, supervising rehearsals, overseeing box office ticket sales, working at the concession stand, selling flowers, ushering, designing the program, designing the show T-shirt, photographing rehearsals, and supervising the green room.
For parents like Kristin Jantzen, the volunteer backstage lead, finding community is one of the rewards for volunteering these 20-plus hours.
“I connect with the kids and other adults, and it makes for a really safe and fun space for all of us to be together,” Jantzen said. “During the last two weeks of the drama season, I basically am offstage and am helping to organize the volunteers, who move the set pieces and move the props. We cue the kids to enter the stage. We cue the music and sound during shows. We have a script with cues on when to move the set pieces and where to put them.
“My job as a lead is to have a script at rehearsals and to write down the lines and what happens when that line is said,” Jantzen continued discussing her work to help cue cast members and work through urgent situations. “Sometimes there are problems with getting a costume done before a show and we’re backstage zipping it or altering it, or we are hot glue gunning a prop to fix it.”
Jantzen added that some of this year’s backstage crew for Beauty and the Beast Jr. also include high school volunteers, who are former Washington Open students with fond memories of the drama program, and alumni parents.
For parent Carrie Scott, the volunteer co-producer who, like Jantzen, has put in more than 20 hours of volunteering, the relationships she has formed with other school community members make her work worthwhile.
“You’re not just there working for your child, but for all the children in the program,” Scott said. “Wendy Guttman, the other co-producer, and I work together to put the program together so that we are the front people for the director, the choreographer and the musical director. We bring the kids and the families together and support them through registration, auditions, the run of the show, as well as the coordination of the parent volunteering. A lot of what I do is people management.
“For decades, the two main gentlemen I have been working with on set design are alumni parents Dave Kusa and Lee Erickson,” Scott continued. “Since the beginning of the school’s drama program in 2000, these two have been volunteering with set building and backstage support.”
Beauty and the Beast Jr. has five more showings. Friday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4 at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 5 at 11 a.m. For tickets, visit the Washington Open Elementary School website.