By, Ellen Pickette
As the lights shine brightly on the stage, the audience gasps from shock. It appears as if the cast is all boys. Is this a throwback to Shakespearian times? An educational experience instead of a night of entertainment? Unfortunately for any Shakespeare enthusiast or history buff, this isn’t supposed to be an example of what shows used to be like; it’s just a show at Belmont Hill, a school that is struggling to find girls for their upper school fall shows. Now, this is an exaggeration – the school is able to involve some girls, but not enough as needed to put on most shows.
A variety of factors play into why many Winsor students are choosing to stay and participate in shows at Winsor as opposed to going elsewhere, with the biggest reason being the Lubin O’Donnell Center, which opened in the fall of 2015. The building is known for its beautiful facilities, such as two changing rooms, makeup studios, a costume shop, a scene shop, and a black box theatre. “There’s been less girls in the Upper School shows each year [since the LOC was completed]…We had four Winsor girls my sophomore year, two Winsor girls my junior year, and one Winsor girl this year [for the fall show]” said Owen P., Belmont Hill ’18, the student head of the drama program. The opening of the LOC has strengthened Winsor’s theatre program. Mr. Johnson, performing arts faculty member, said that “turnouts at our auditions here on campus have been very strong since we started working in the LOC.”
Another factor turning girls away from Belmont Hill is transportation issues. According to Isabel L. ’20,“the commute is not difficult, but it is very annoying; it takes me about an hour to get there every day. Also, the hours are very late.” For a student who lives far from Belmont, this could be an issue, as Winsor does not provide transportation from rehearsal, leaving students in Belmont late at night and requiring someone to drive them home. Transportation is made more inconvenient by the dearth of MBTA stations in Belmont. Thus, students who don’t have a license, a car, or parents available to pick them up find themselves in a difficult situation.
Thankful as they are for Isabel, the one Winsor student involved in Guys and Dolls, one girl isn’t enough. Owen informed me that Belmont Hill has “opened up auditions to Dana Hall the past two years, but [have] gotten zero girls as a result of that [so] we’ve turned to Belmont High School for girls to participate… We had two girls come last year to fill our last spots in Much Ado About Nothing, and this year we have four girls from Belmont High School for Guys and Dolls.” Clearly, Winsor girls aren’t the only ones who prefer to act at their own schools rather than commute to BH.
This is a challenge that Roxbury Latin is not facing. “It seems there have not been fewer girls for RL’s fall shows. This is my sixth year and, based on suggestions from my predecessor…I aimed to choose plays with roles for four to six girls, and not more,” said Mr. Nelson, Roxbury Latin’s director of dramatics. They choose shows that do not require many girls, helping to solve a problem before they are faced with it fully. This is not to say they rely solely on Winsor students; Mr. Nelson explained that they have worked with students from Dana Hall, Winsor, Ursuline Academy, Newton South High School, and Dover-Sherborn High School over the six years he has been working at Roxbury Latin. They currently have four Winsor students in Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth.
It is also a factor Winsor isn’t facing; unlike at Roxbury Latin and Belmont Hill, having performers of two genders is not essential at Winsor. Although Mr. Johnson told me he was “happy to have more male actors”, he also told me he didn’t believe he needed them, pointing out that “the majority of the girls seem very content with the current state of things and my primary goal is to serve them and our own program.” By being gender-blind while casting, he has allowed students from Winsor to play challenging roles and grow as performers by exploring characters different than themselves. Even when students performed in the old theatre, many students chose to stay at Winsor and participate. Penny M. ’18 said that for her, “the space didn’t matter … Winsor chooses plays with better female roles than the boys’ schools do, so there was never really a question for me of which to do.”
It will be interesting to see if the lack of students coming from Winsor will affect relationships with our brother schools, or if eventually a solution will be found to provide enough students for Belmont Hill shows. Some ways to help alleviate the issue could be by changing rehearsal times to earlier in the day or providing transportation back to Winsor after rehearsals. Until Belmont Hill gets enough Winsor students, solutions will most definitely be something to think about.