Every year, the Standing O Theater company, Oswego High School’s performing arts program, puts on its annual spring production, and this year’s musical was “Chicago.”
Those involved in the Standing O have been met with many great obstacles these past couple years—most as a result of COVID—ranging from halted production at the beginning of the pandemic, to having to perform while wearing face masks that obscured actors’ facial expressions. It’s safe to say, it hasn’t been easy, but there is some sense of normalcy in sight as OHS presents its first maskless musical since 2019!
After countless hours of rehearsal, which spanned from the beginning of March to the end of April, the cast of 60 finally saw their efforts come to fruition. Tuesday, April 26, was an in-school performance for OHS students, to which tickets were not necessary, and then Wednesday, April 27, was opening night.
“Chicago” is a musical that was written to portray the 1920s time period: the “jazz age.” The leading ladies include Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, just two of the “merry murderesses.” The musical vividly illustrates for the audience of the ups and downs a woman would face for killing her cheating husband.
Senior Audrey Esquivel has been involved in theater since she was 5 years old. Although she auditioned for Roxie as well, she ultimately earned the role of Matron “Mama” Morton, the Cook County jail key-keeper who entices desperate inmates with a tactic to get around their charges in exchange for an excessive fee.
Esquivel said that since her disposition varies so much from her character, she tried to remain patient with herself and made efforts to better illustrate “Mama’s” key characteristics.
“I learned to be more comfortable with my character by asking for more tips, watching different high schoolers online portray her madness and her confidence,” Esquivel said. “It just takes time to be in character because you are evolving into someone else’s shoes.”
Junior William Hatfield, who played Billy Flynn—a slick lawyer that finds his way around the law, always keeping his clients’ best interests in mind—also shared his experiences of having to grow into his character.
“It took a long time to really get into character. Finding the voice, the mannerisms, the speed of speaking, all of that. I think I really took to it in the end, though, and became drastically more confident over time,” Hatfield said.
Esquivel’s experiences with her fellow cast members have also completely transformed; now, when she graduates, there will be a bittersweet goodbye from the cast, who have evolved from strangers to friends as a direct result of this opportunity.
“I wasn’t close with the majority of them, but now I always make sure to say hi to them in the hallways…I will miss everyone so much,” Esquivel said.
As the performances progressed, Esquivel’s confidence began to increase, especially being that she was assigned such a difficult song, prone to fault. Saturday, April 30’s 7 p.m. show was the final performance, and for Esquivel, being a senior, emotions were running high.
“[I’m] not [going to] lie, I cried the last night. Some part of me just can’t let go. It’s emotional and sad, but I got through it with others. We all have to move on somehow, but I am so proud of all of us,” Esquivel said.
Hatfield provided a description of his feelings regarding the company’s performances, as well.
“On opening night, I felt more excited than anything. Seeing the last few rehearsals, I knew that the show had finally come together in the end,” Hatfield said. “After five other shows, it had set in that this was the seniors’ last performance, and everyone was feeling sentimental, to say the least. Overall, I’d say every show was met with great energy before and after.”
Aside from being an actor in the cast, there are various other ways to get involved; for example, “Crew,” the group of people that specialize in creating the plays’ sets and work with more technical aspects of the shows, is a great way to get involved with theater, working more so behind the scenes.
“It’s tight-knit…We have a lot of fun here…We all just find a way to work together, and we grow together because of that. Even if we’re not used to talking with the person, we can still work with them, and for a lot of people, we very quickly become friends with each other so, like, every day we come after school and we’re just, like, hanging out with a group of friends while doing all this work,” crew members said.
Joining the crew that works with more backstage details, through either the social media accounts or designated Google Classrooms, has appealed to those who enjoy performances and theater but don’t feel comfortable enough to be in the focal cast, actually performing in front of a crowd. Students that aspire to work in this field can also retain practical carpentry skills; working on crew would be an especially great opportunity for those wanting to enroll in classes pertaining to wood-working and construction but have not been able to join those courses.
Ms. Katherine Conant is the Standing O sponsor and spring and fall musicals’ director. She has been at OHS for five years, but has been in education for 24 years now. Over the years, Conant has made great efforts to create an environment of relaxation for the participants, but also instills habits of tremendous productivity in the group.
“I like to think that it is a relaxed, fun atmosphere, but, also, we get a lot of work done, and we work really hard,” Conant said.
Her focus of producing such a comfortable environment, though, seems to have transformed the cast from a versatile group of high school kids to something much more than that.
“I do like to think we’ve created a sense of family and, like, [a] second home for these kids because I know some of them—it’s not always super awesome at home, so we try to create that safe space for them here,” Conant said.
She, too, described her feelings before and after the performances as being overwhelmed, while also simultaneously feeling relief, and being very satisfied with what they have created.
“Overall, I think we are always very proud of what we do. Maybe other people don’t see it as a success sometimes, but we have done a lot of work on each of these shows, so that’s what’s important to us—the whole process of it,” Conant said.
Katherine Conant, William Hatfield, and Audrey Esquivel all formulated a few pieces of advice for anyone hesitant to audition in the future.
In Conant’s guidance, she tried to put some students’ self-consciousness to rest.
“They totally should do it! The worst thing that could happen is you feel embarrassed, but…most likely, you’ll be in the show in some capacity. It’s a good experience, and you make a lot of really good friends, so I think it’s worth it to at least try it once,” Conant said.
Hatfield encouraged anyone hesitant to audition to push their fears aside and go for it because, in whatever form it may be, some sort of good is bound to come from taking the chance.
“You should absolutely audition if you want to, even a little bit. Speaking from experience, you will likely do much better than you think; even if you don’t get the part you want, I guarantee you will make some incredible friends. It’s worth it,” Hatfield said.
Esquivel offered a few words of wisdom from her experience as well; her short but sweet advice offers some simple reminders pertaining to crucial ideas that for teenagers especially, self-doubt often causes us to forget.
“Be yourself. Try your best. Only you are in control. Repeat to yourself that you are talented, and you can do anything,” Esquivel said.