Standing in the back

MHS drama teacher enjoys a student-powered performance

Maryville High School drama teacher and director of the upcoming performance of “Guys and Dolls” likes her place at the back of the Maryville High School Theater.

“I’m most proud of people seeing me back here during the show doing nothing, and kids are running it,” she said. “They’re running lights, set changes, costume changes, their entrances - they’re doing it all. That’s very rewarding.”

The school’s spring production, Guys and Dolls, is set for March 6-8 in the auditorium at Maryville High School.

Petrowski said “Guys and Dolls” is a musical the students in her class have wanted to do for a while. “It’s a classic love story and a comedy. You’ve got two principle couples -- the conservative Sara who falls for the gambler Sky Masterson and the comical Nathan Detroit who’s been engaged to Adele for 14 years. We can all relate to those relationships.”

The theater teacher said one of the aspects of “Guys and Dolls” she likes best is that it has great song and dance roles for males. “Lots of times musicals lend themselves more to female dance numbers. In this play, males are prominent,” she said.

Petrowski said she had no problem convincing the male students in the production to dance. “I know some schools struggle to get their students to buy into their programs in fine arts. Here, we are just so enriched with our male student body. They enjoy this outlet,” she said. “They’re creative and talented and fun.”

One particular challenge was building a set for the sewer scene of the musical where the male actors perform a big dance number to the song “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.”

“I decided to draw the middle black curtain and put out oversized dice on stage left and stage right and up stage center, and they use the dice as part of the choreography,” she said. “It turned out really well. They really incorporate the dice into the choreography.”

Petrowski said she was very proud of the students in the Maryville High School orchestra. “Maryville High School is one of the few high schools that actually has a student orchestra,” she said. “We’ll have a full orchestra for the production.”

Petrowski said one of the most gratifying parts of this production, like others she has done, is seeing the students come together as a united group because often there is a wide diversity of student interested in drama and theater.

“We have freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, all academic levels, all levels of talent and all cliques are in the class,” she said. “Helping them learn to appreciate each other, come together and make it their show is the most rewarding thing we do.”

Petrowski has been teaching theater for 20 years, and she’s been at Maryville High School in 1998. “Every school has kids like this. You give these kids an opportunity, and they’ll find you. That’s the kind of kids we get in this class,” she said. “We get athletes, academics, alternative children. We get the whole spectrum of the student body, and, if it weren’t for this type of discipline, typically their paths wouldn’t cross.”

One particular challenge for the “Guys and Dolls” production was Petrowski didn’t get to start working with the students until after Christmas.

“We begin the first week after Christmas with auditions and we auditioned it and cast it in the first week after Christmas break,” she said. “Through years of doing this I’ve developed a formula as far as pacing that works.”

Petrowski said she paces her students to understand when everything connected to the production needs to happen. Students have to learn when the sets have to be finished, when they have to have their lines memorized, when props should be in and when they should begin generating publicity.

The students who come into the program participate in a tradition, Petrowski said, and each cast sets a standard for the following year.

“Some of the students come in having been part of a musical. They come in knowing the pace and how hard we work it. They set the example for the new ones,” she said. “It gets to the point that the kids don’t need me. I know when I’ve done my job when they no longer need me.”

Petrowski said there are 70 kids in the production. “I have great leadership among the students. A lot of people make me look good,” she said.

Petrowski hopes the community will come to a performance and see how good it really is.

“Come enjoy a cultural evening out,” she said. “Where else could you go to see what we consider a professional quality show with a full orchestra and really appreciate the young people in our community? All too often I think some in our community get caught up in the negative about young people. They don’t read the great things these kids do. I love to show them off and show the community what great kids we have.”

Guys and Dolls is set for 7:30 p.m. on March 6 and 7 and at 2:30 p.m. on March 8. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students, and they will be on sale from Monday, March 2, through Friday, March 6, at the school and at the school theater on the days of the performances.

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