Elementary students make their way to the stage with Wayland Jr. Broadway


Credit: Alyssa Ao

Aidan O’Hara launches the prospective Wayland Jr. Broadway, a chance for fifth graders to participate in theater in their town. “[I am most excited] to nurture a love of performing arts in Wayland,” O’Hara said.

Nina Wilson

With building anticipation in the audience, the curtains of the Wayland High School theater slowly draw open, revealing a packed stage with actors frozen in their first positions. However, this isn’t WHS’s usual band of performers. Instead, it appears they have been shrunk to half their size. They are a troop of around 40 fifth graders, the latest endeavor of drama teacher Aidan O’Hara.

This idea first stemmed from O’Hara’s frustration with the lack of theatrical opportunities available to elementary-age students. With well-known facilities in neighboring towns like Sudbury and Wellesley, these students are forced to venture outside of Wayland in order to find a suitable musical theater education. Because of this, O’Hara believes it takes away the kinship that forms within a production.

“A lot of times when students [leave Wayland for theater education], they build roots in different communities,” O’Hara said. “I think it would be fun to nurture that interest instead within Wayland.”

O’Hara’s vision is largely based on the work of high school students. Wayland Jr. Broadway, as he has named it, will be nearly exclusively managed by students, both in the Wayland High School Theater Ensemble (WHSTE) and the unaffiliated. He recognizes the talents that students possess and wants to help them pass that talent on and learn something themselves.

“There is an interest and a talent among high school students to teach children dancing, singing, staging, music and all of that,” O’Hara said. “I think they will be able to get a deep and meaningful experience and understanding about theater education and education in general.”

After months of preparation, O’Hara released an application form to WHS students. On the application, there are nine options for positions with varying levels of commitment accompanying them. These include stage director, stage manager, choreographer, music director, cast manager, costumer, tech, scenery and props or producer. With a wide range of options, O’Hara received an influx of support from students. One student in particular, sophomore Amelia Furlong, leaned towards a director or stage manager position with the chance to unite two of her biggest interests: pursuing theater and helping children.

“As cheesy as it is, I love sharing the art and the joy that [theater] has brought me,” Furlong said.

Through previous participation, both on the stage and behind the curtain, Furlong has witnessed the power that theater has had in her life as well as many others. She hopes that by instilling a strong love for theater into the kids early, they will gain the same opportunities and grow into preforming.

“Theater just gives such a voice to so many people,” Furlong said. “You can do whatever you want and there is no judgment because your character can do anything you want.”

What is special about this opportunity for elementary students is the access to the WHS stage and acclaimed resources. This provides these children a chance to see what real theater would be like, which might otherwise not be available.

“I think the thing I am most excited about for these kids is [the performance] on the big Wayland stage,” junior Jane Gargano said. “This is nice because they have access to our really, really nice facilities and have a large scale production.”

The students, mostly members of WHSTE, are excited to see how O’Hara will run this project. After a few years of learning from him, they have become confident in his ability to make this new venture one that will provide the best growth for everyone involved. In particular, students note his ability to include others, an important factor in working with children.

“I think Mr. O’Hara is really, really good at making people feel welcome,” Gargano said. “[The kids] have never seen the space before, it probably will be a little intimidating, but I think he will do a really great job at facilitating that transition.”

In addition, O’Hara’s leadership will be beneficial for the high school students. While some involved typically work in tech, nearly all of those interested only have experience on the stage. Furlong believes this will require some guidance but thinks that the students will be up for the challenge.

“It’s brand new for most,” Furlong said, “You’re taking all these actors who have watched people do these things, so I think it will be great for people to be able to step behind the curtain.”

With a year’s worth of low-stakes weekly practices, O’Hara and the high school students alike expect to have great fun developing and working through this process. If all goes to plan, WHS can expect this set of fifth graders to light up the stage in late January 2023.

“I am so excited to be the first taste of theater for these kids,” Furlong said. “Even if it’s just one kid who discovers their passion, that just excites me so much. I would be so excited to be that person for a kid who shows them what they love.”