Gaynor Alumni Inspire the Next Generation of Thespians

Posted on Thursday, April 4th, 2024

On April 3, the current cast and crew of the upcoming spring musical were treated to a unique experience — a visit from Gaynor alumni who were active participants in the school’s theater program. Moderated by Gaynor faculty Abby Shuppy and Meredith Akins, the goal of the panel was to talk about the alums’ current theater experiences and their past experience in the musicals at Gaynor, and to share advice with the students participating in this year’s Gaynor musical, The Sound of Music.

Alumni panel speaks to current Gaynor theater students
From left: Meredith Akins, Olivia Beal, Darmia Elliot, Morgan Reichberg, Jake Sklar, Andrew Ferrante, Abby Shuppy
  • Morgan Reichberg ’18 – attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and is currently a sophomore at SUNY Purchase 
  • Darmia Elliott ’20 – currently a senior at Churchill School and will be studying at Cornell University in the fall
  • Andrew Ferrante ’20 – currently a senior at Princeton High School, and will be entering Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the fall
  • Jake Sklar ’20 – currently a senior at Berkeley Carroll, and will be matriculating at Emory University this fall
  • Olivia Beal ’21 – currently a junior at Dwight High School

The event took place in Gaynor’s Yvette Siegel-Herzog Performing Arts Center (PAC), and began as the panelists had a chance to watch the current cast rehearsing scenes from The Sound of Music. After rehearsal ended, the cast became the audience as the panelists took the stage.

After introducing themselves, including detailing the Gaynor musicals they had participated in, Ms. Shuppy asked all of the panelists to remember the days before the PAC was completed, when they had to perform the musical in the gymnasium on a temporary stage. She said, “Many of our current students do not know what that was like. Can you share some of your favorite memories of that time, including the joys and challenges of performing in the gym?”  (While the panelists graduated in different years, all of them had participated in the school’s 2018 production of The Lion King, Jr.)

Morgan remembered, “I actually never had a transition to the PAC, but I remember that the basketball hoop was right above us. But it didn’t feel like we were in a gym because we truly made this theater experience alive, and that was really special.”

Olivia agreed, saying, “Even though it was the gym, it still was like we created a magical world in that space.”

Ms. Akins asked the panel, “Are you still doing any form of theater whether it is in high school or college, and did being in theater in middle school help you in any way?”

Morgan led off by saying that when she started at Gaynor, she was really shy, and that performing in the school musicals really helped her become more outgoing, which also helped in her transition to high school. She is now studying directing for theater and psychology in college, and credits her Gaynor musical experience with helping her to prepare for that.

Jake also credited his Gaynor theater experience with helping him come out of his shell, saying, “I think that Gaynor really helped me figure out who I was as a person. I remember being a really shy kid when I first came to Gaynor, and I think over the course of doing a lot of shows, I just got more confidence. And, I realized that I really love to sing and dance. I also feel that I have a lot of stage fright, and getting past that was a skill I learned from doing theater at Gaynor, and that’s helped me a lot.”

Ms. Shuppy then asked the panelists if they had any advice for current Gaynor students as they prepare for this year’s musical and for the future.

Olivia immediately took the microphone and said that memorizing the script is key. “The faster you get off book, the better,” she said to faint groans from the current cast. “When you want to develop the character, the faster you get off book, the easier it is to work on your character onstage. I know how hard it is to memorize lines — it’s really hard — but it’s a lot easier once you get to [that point].”

Andrew agreed, saying, “In a similar vein, I’d say it’s really important to practice outside of school because it helps keep the events of what you learn fresh in your mind so that you don’t have to spend the next rehearsal remembering what you did the last time. It helps cement it in your mind.”

Darmia had a global perspective on the experience of participating in theater, saying, “I think another important thing is building your friendships offstage as well. I made some of my closest friends at Gaynor and also at my high school [through theater]. I love talking to them and hanging out with them, and we all have a common interest, which is theater.”

Ms. Akins asked if the panelists had any future plans for participating in theater or how they might use what they’ve learned in the arts in another realm, and Morgan said, “I want to be a speech therapist and teach that through theater. I’d love to connect the two. Theater really helped me so much as a young person, and now I would really like to help children through theater.”

The current students had a chance to ask questions of the panelists about what pre-show rituals they do, what they do during performances when they are not onstage, and if they had any advice given the rehearsal they had just watched. The panelists all mentioned how professional the production looked, and how well the cast was already interacting with the audience. All of the panelists hope to return for the final performances this spring.
Performances of this year’s musical, The Sound of Music, will be held on May 9 and 10 in the PAC.