Squirrel Girl Goes to College takes on WHS Drama Festival

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Credit: Julia Callini

Squirrel Girl performs on Thursday and Friday, February 26th and 27th. Sophomore Sammy Janoff, one of the performers, has participated in the METG drama festival before. "I think that the drama festival excites students in the theater who haven't ever done it before because it is a very different experience than most are used to," Janoff said.

Kate Clifford and Julia Raymond

When talking about WHS’ annual winter performance “Squirrel Girl Goes to College,” many are not aware that this one-act play is arranged and prepared for the annual drama festival in March.

On Saturday, Feb 29, the Wayland High School Theatre Ensemble(WHSTE) hosted a round of the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild(METG) festival. The festival is a competitive program that includes about 120 high Schools in Massachusetts.

Seven schools visited Wayland to perform, but only three ensembles moved on to the semi-finals. While it is very hard for the judges to decide on which groups make it to the next round, it is even more stressful time for the performers before finding out whether or not they have advanced.

Teacher Aidan O’Hara is the drama director at WHS. He has been working with Wayland’s theater program for three years, and has been part of the METG festival numerous times. O’Hara is aware that when choosing the final three performances, the judges could go either way with their decision.

“There are just countless stories of really amazing shows that don’t get chosen to move on because a set of judges you have that day just saw it differently,” O’Hara said. “When viewing movies or plays it’s really tricky to tell which one is good versus another.”

Assistant state manager and junior Issy Carrara and sophomore performer Sammy Janoff, both participated in the METG drama festival in 2019.

“At the end of the night, there is an awards ceremony where people can get recognized for their hard work,” Janoff said. “At that point, after those awards are given, they announce the three schools to move on from the preliminary round.”

For many, the METG festival is an unforgettable experience that defines their experience with theater at WHS. It is very common that many students return to participating in the drama festival after participating in previous years.

“[In 2019], I remember walking out of the theater being head over heels excited and loving the environment that had been created, [it was] definitely [one of the] top ten best days of my life,” Carrara said.

Janoff, who had participated in the festival in 2019 as a freshman looks back on her experience in a positive way.

“It was a really cool experience being able to meet other schools, see their shows, and perform ours in front of an enthusiastic and supportive audience,” Janoff said. “It was an awesome time and so inspiring seeing other schools and their work.”

Wayland hosted for the first time last year, advancing further than in past years. This is Wayland’s third year participating in the festival.

“Last year our show was lucky enough to make it all the way to finals, it was called ‘Pronoun’ and it was really exciting to perform in Boston on a Boston stage with 13 other schools,” O’Hara said.

Although making it all the way to finals is definitely not easy, the preparation and time that goes into the show carry an important role in its success.

“To prepare, we have a lot of people involved including costume design, prop design, tech, building, scenic painting, festival management, run crew and more,” Janoff said. “For my role, I have a costume that was specifically designed for my character.”

The prep work required for the success of the show requires lots of time and dedication, and in turn, students must be willing to give up a lot of their free time for practice.

“We began practicing in early December,” Carrara said. “Practice for sure gets longer as we get closer to show time, almost every day during February break there was something to do. But from Sunday to this upcoming Saturday, rehearsal is required from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m..”

The competitive atmosphere of the show can cause students a lot of stress and anxiety, but the effort always seems worth the positive outcome of the show.

“I think festivals are very stressful, but in an exciting way,” Carrara said. “I think the only other person’s stress that falls on me would be Mr. O’Hara’s because he wants to make sure everything goes well, as do the rest of us.”

The days before the show sometimes can be the most stressful, rather than the actual day.

“The drama festival is stressful building up to it because we want to put on a great show, however, the day of is not stressful because there is so much encouragement around us,” Janoff said.

O’Hara recognizes stress in many and tries to reduce the stress as much as possible, wanting to just have fun with it in the end.

“I think competition in the arts is tricky because I think it’s so subjective, so I try to downplay some of the competitive nature of it,” O’Hara said.

To many, this is a hidden event. The number of students participating in the festival may see an increase if more knew about it.

“I know as soon as I found out I was so eager to be part of it, and I’m sure if others knew how fun it was they’d be excited for it too,” Carrara said.

Wayland succeded at the METG festival on Saturday. They were one of the three schools that moved on to the semi-final round. This is the second consecutive year in which a WHSTE production has moved on from the preliminary round of the METG festival.