Members of Belmont High School Drama are celebrating the receipt of a $10,000 RISE grant that was announced on Monday. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)
NBC awards $10,000 grant to Belmont High School
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — Drama students at Belmont High School found out Monday why their instructor had been unusually quiet the previous week. Angela Pitrone was finally able to reveal that NBC had chosen her students’ application as one of 50 across the nation to win a $10,000 RISE America grant.
Pitrone said she learned of the grant the previous Monday, but the winners were not to be formally announced until this week.
NBC offered the grants as part of its rollout of a new network drama, “Rise,” premiering on March 13, about a high school theater department. The grants, administered through RISE (Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression) America, are designed to cover the critical needs of high school theater programs, from production expenses to technical equipment and master classes.
In Belmont’s case, it was the desire to have more space.
When the current Belmont High School building was proposed, it included an auditorium, but when funding came up short, the auditorium was dropped from the plan. Today, the drama department stores costumes in the band room, props in the closets, and uses the weight room as a dressing room. Practices take place in the cafeteria, and performances are in the parking lot or off-campus at the Franklin Opera House or Inter-Lakes High School.
Pitrone said she heard about the RISE grant from some parents, and from students who saw it on Facebook. She called upon Owin Felty, a graphic arts student, to help out.
“We had already been looking at creating a video for the School Board,” she said.
Felty said he used class time to plan out the flow of the video they would submit, asking other drama students for ideas and doing video interviews on why they thought the grant would be important, what they do well, and what the needs are.
In interview after interview, the need for more space came up.
“It’s hard to compete,” said Josie Scarponi, “when we don’t have a place of our own to store things. We need a place to lay things out.”
The video, along with a 500-word essay, went to NBC, where Belmont’s application was among more than 1,000 others from around the country. It was the only application from New Hampshire to be selected as a winner.
Jason Katims, the creator and executive producer of the new TV series, said, “It’s a dream come true for me that ‘Rise’ will have a genuine impact on 50 public school drama programs throughout the country. It has never been clearer that the future of our country rests on the shoulders of the next generation of young leaders. I am excited about the notion that the RISE America grants will help support, inspire, and nurture creative young minds throughout the country, especially at a time when arts in public education is undervalued and underfunded.”
Bob Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, said, “I am incredibly proud that our program is giving the same opportunity to today’s high school students to experience theatre as I had in my high school theatre program in Rockford, Illinois. Being a member of a theatre troupe profoundly changed my life and I hope that the grant not only enriches the lives of these students but extends into their communities.”
Julie Cohen Theobald, president of the Educational Theatre Foundation which helped to facilitate the grant program, said, “Seeing the need school by school was both inspiring and a wakeup call. The way these dedicated educators are impacting kids’ lives, against the odds and without the necessary resources, is heroic. Every school was deserving, and their stories reinforce the need to continue this momentum until every school in America has a well-funded theatre program.”
Pitrone said her students learn what they’re missing when they enter play competitions with other schools. The New Hampshire Educational Theatre Guild holds workshops at Plymouth State University, and Pitrone said they have half an hour to learn about tech — the sound and lighting systems that they have not had the opportunity to work with — when they do their performances.
Scarponi said it presents a challenge to transfer the blocking they have done in rehearsals to the flats where they perform, when the amount of space to move around is so different.
“You don’t get a full understanding of your surroundings until the performance,” she said.
Pitrone also noted that the lack of space means that there is no room to store sets that otherwise might be reused in another performance. It is more costly because they always have to purchase new material for their shows.
What equipment they have is stored in boxes, and during practices, they have to break everything down at the end because another group is going to need the space.
“We’re good at making do with very little,” said Abby Camire. “We work with what we’ve got.”
It will be up to the School Board to determine how to use the grant money, Pitrone said.
For the time being, they have been fortunate to be able to make arrangements with other venues for their shows. Their upcoming performance of “Into the Woods” will take place at the Inter-Lakes High School auditorium. Concord High School has helped out in the past.
“And the parents help out with costumes,” said Scarponi. “We’ve learned to make it work.”
It takes a village
The drama students say they don’t get the kind of recognition that athletes get, so winning the grant will serve to bring some attention to what they do.
“We thought it would be cool to have NBC recognize them, and it’s a huge way to show what exists at Belmont High School,” Pitrone said.
When they found out they had won the grant, Felty said he jumped from his seat to realize his video had an impact.
Pitrone noted that it not just the students on the stage that make the production work. There is the tech crew, the costumers, the set builders.
Of the 400 students at Belmont High, she estimates that there are 60-70 people helping out with their current production.
Camire agreed, saying, “It’s a huge community event, and past students come and act. It really does take a village.”
“Into the Woods” is a set-heavy production that needs the kind of space that Inter-Lakes provides, but the students had as much fun with past productions. Ian Cluett said they had a phenomenal time with Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which they performed under a tent in the parking lot.
Another favorite was “Footloose” where they worked with a choreographer to learn the dance moves.
“We pulled a lot of new people in,” Felty said. “The choreography was so much fun.”
The cast of NBC's new drama, Rise, includes, front row: Erin Kommor as Sasha, Amy Forsyth as Gwen Strickland, Katherine Reis as Jolene, Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli, Ted Sutherland as Simon Saunders, Auli'i Cravalho as Lilette Suarez, Caroline Pluta as Singer, Ellie Desautels as Michael Hallowell; middle row: Joshua Grosso as Singer, Rachel Hilson as Harmony Curtis, Cheryl Bell as Singer, Brett Gray as Singer, Damon J. Gillespie as Robbie Thorne, Alexis Molnar as Singer; and back row: Rosie Perez as Tracey Wolfe, Tom Riis Farrell as Mr. Baer, Rarmian Newton as Maashous Evers, Shannon Purser as Anabelle, and Sean Grandillo as Jeremy. (Courtesy Photo: Peter Kramer/NBC)