Fine Arts: A Path to Confidence & Self-Esteem

By Fine Arts and Center for Excellence Director Tracey Zerwig Ford
When the lights go up next weekend for Hutchison’s production of the musical Once on This Island, senior Madyson Bolton will take the stage in the lead role of Ti Moune. Once on This Island is a unique show driven by African-Caribbean music and French colonial culture. The show weaves a new myth from plot elements of The Little Mermaid and Romeo and Juliet with a Caribbean flair.
At Hutchison, we work hard in our theatre studios to train girls and develop a passion for theatre. Many of our girls are triple threats – they act, dance, and sing. Madyson earned the role of Ti Moune because she is the definition of a triple-threat. She has danced on the Hutchison Dance Team for the last three years, has been a part of Vocal Point, the school’s choir, for the last four years, and has no inhibitions on stage. She is a big personality on and off the stage and the go-to person for all things fun. You may remember her as one of the Silly Girls from Beauty and the Beast last fall or her work in the ensembles of Into the Woods and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The role of Ti Moune is a challenging one, vocally, and physically. There are multiple vocal solos and a very physical dance solo in the show. Madyson is ready for just such a challenge. 
Jay Rapp, director of the production, says, “Like the character, Ti Moune, Madyson has this innate sense of wonder and determination that is critical to bringing depth to this role. It’s a pleasure to see her perform in a leading role that highlights her broad vocal range and her enthusiasm for dance.”

Madyson says she recognizes parts of herself in Ti Moune. “The character is always very excited. She has a childlike personality, and I connect with that. It’s fun getting to bond with the character so I can bring her out on stage. When we first read the script, I thought about how I was going to build the character. In talking with Mr. Rapp there are a lot of levels to Ti Moune.”

How We Choose Our Shows

The Hutchison theatre faculty has a deliberation process when selecting shows to mount. Usually six theatre faculty members debate around a table with scripts, catalogues, and books to decide what plays could be included in the theatre season and threaded through the program for the year. Each faculty member holds a short list of titles she/he is advocating for after having multiple conversations with division heads, other faculty, and girls. One of the most important criteria is evaluating where the girls have been artistically and where we need to stretch the girls’ as artists and as audience. Through each step along the way to selection, theatre faculty members discuss the suitability of a play considering: educational value, entertainment value, audience appropriateness, and artistic merit. Slowly and thoughtfully, a final list is analyzed and vetted through a final round.

This is how Hutchison chose
Once on This Island as the fall musical. One of the show’s main themes is the importance of sharing stories in cultures, which is both universal and specific – something that we teach in our classrooms. Artistically the girls will be challenged technically to bring storms and a Caribbean island to life in the Wiener Theater as we tell the story. Additionally, the show tackles the issue of breaking down walls between race and social strata and illustrates how communities can come together in times of need, something that is particularly relevant amidst the recent destruction in the Caribbean.  

The musical premiered at Playwrights Horizons in New York City in 1990 before transferring to Broadway later that year. The first Broadway revival of
Once on This Island opens in previews this year on the same weekend the Hutchison show with run, November 10-13.

Working With a Professional Mindset

In addition to the working professionals who are part of our faculty, we engage professionals in the Memphis theatre world to help stretch our actors. One of the ways we do this is by inviting professionals to join our casting committee. They are always amazed at the level of skill our girls have.

This fall, our professional artist-in-residence is Tomisha Edwards who is acting as choreographer for the show. She was last seen on stage in Hattiloo Theatre’s regional premiere of
Ruined and at the Levitt Shell dancing with New Ballet Ensemble for 3,000 plus audience members. Ms. Edwards is teaching African dance techniques to the 25 girls in the cast. Caribbean music is vibrant and multicultural borrowing freely from French, African, native cultures, and even Spanish influences. The dance movement Ms. Edwards is incorporating into the show has its roots from the African Ivory Coast countries. Each rehearsal starts with Ms. Edwards taking the cast members through warm-ups that incorporate African movement found in the show.

“Tomisha has extensive knowledge of West African and Caribbean dance styles,” Rapp says. “She has elevated the experience of each cast member participating in this musical. She is vibrant, witty, and great at connecting with the students. I love seeing the joy they express when they perform Tomisha’s choreography, which is spirited and dynamic and will definitely win over audiences.”

On behalf of our girls, I hope you’ll join us for our production of Once on This Island next weekend. It is a very timely show about how communities come together to weather storms, literally and figuratively, and why It is important to share our stories. Show times are November 10, 11, and 13, at 7:00 pm and November 12, at 2:00 pm. You can buy tickets here.

ABOUT TRACEY ZERWIG FORD

Tracey Zerwig Ford serves as both the Fine Arts Director and the Center for Excellence Director. Before joining Hutchison, Ms. Ford served as the Artistic Director of the Arts Memphis’ Center for Arts Education. She has commissioned works from all major arts groups in the Memphis area, trained artists of all disciplines, and visited classrooms through Lincoln Center’s prestigious Aesthetic Education Institute. Ms. Ford has performed and directed professionally in New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Lindenwood University and a Master of Fine Arts from Western Illinois University.
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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.