For over 20 years, a florist shop worker who once sang his demonic plant to life on the Mattituck High School stage was silenced. Audience members in the school auditorium couldn’t watch as teens in 1950s California fell in love. Dorothy never belted out chords alongside Munchkins with help from a lion, tin man and scarecrow.
That all changed a decade ago, when a trio of Mattituck High School seniors approached district officials to request that production of school musicals be revived.
To celebrate the 10th year since musicals returned, the Mattituck Musical Theater Company will perform “Into The Woods” Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
Co-director Anne Gilvarry said it’s rumored that around 1988, a new theater director who had more experience with straight plays put an end to the musical productions.
Three students who graduated in 2011 — Marissa Russo, Colin Keil and Becca Mincieli — began attending school board meetings regularly to lobby for the return of annual musicals. A musical was added to the approved school calendar for the 2009-10 academic year, but never materialized, Ms. Russo said.
“We had heard rumblings through the grapevine that there was going to be a musical,” said Ms. Russo, who spearheaded the effort. “But it just sort of came and went, and we never heard anything.”
In high school, Mr. Keil worked on school plays as an artist and set designer and Ms. Mincieli acted in every play from her freshman year on, according to a 2010 article in The Suffolk Times.
Mr. Keil recalled that he was passionate about providing a creative outlet for students.
“In high schools, there’s often a perception that sports are prioritized and there aren’t other options for those who want achievements in other areas,” said Mr. Keil, who today channels his creative energy into pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering. “The dramas we put on at the high school were great, but overall, the theater program was somewhat limited.”
Ms. Russo, who sang in chorus, danced and had directed the junior high plays, said the school board voted to bring musicals back to the high school in the fall of 2010. Though she was unable to attend that board meeting, she recalled the next day in school, when she was approached by now-retired English teacher Pat Arslanian.
“She walked by me and was like, ‘It happened!’ and she was like, ‘They voted!’ and from that point on, it was chaos of running to find each other and celebrate, and telling teachers,” Ms. Russo said. “And we went from there.”
By February 2011, then-chorus teacher Jacob Fowle asked Ms. Gilvarry, an English teacher, to join him in directing “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The duo has been directing every year since, Ms. Gilvarry said.
This year, Ms. Gilvarry — a self-identified “theater kid” and 1995 Mattituck graduate — has been contacting alumni who were involved in the last nine shows to spotlight “Into The Woods.” Some alumni now involved with North Fork Community Theatre have been rehearsing with current students, she said. Some school faculty are alumni, too.
The number of students participating in theater productions has increased in recent years, she said, noting that nearly 40 students are involved in “Into the Woods.”
However, she added, every year’s musical is extra-special, since the students lobbied for it.
“Those kids from 2011 graduated, [but musicals] didn’t leave with them. It stayed, not because of me or Jacob, but because of the groundwork they laid and the enthusiasm we continue to cultivate,” she said.
Ms. Mincieli, who works as a flight attendant in Boston, said she misses the small-town feel of Mattituck.
“Everybody wants to make their mark on their community,” she said. “It felt really good, knowing it’s going strong.”
Ms. Russo said her experience advocating for the arts in high school led her to pursue a master’s at New York University and to her current job as an accessibility administrative associate for the New York City-based nonprofit Theater Development Fund, working to make theater accessible to all.
“Essentially what I do every day is advocate for people to be able to experience the arts or provide them with that experience,” she said. “I live in this world so deeply and it’s just so clear the impact the arts can have on young people. I’m just amazed that what some 16- and 17-year-old kids wanted was able to land and help create this community for students who I know really benefit from it.”