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New EHS director ready for his first spring musical
MICHAEL C. UPTON
Irving Gonzalez was made for his new role as Ephrata High School’s theater director.
The 40-year old Gonzalez has spent most of his life on the stage and he is now doing what he always wanted to do — work with children of all ages who are interested in acting.
“I’m originally from Berks County and I’ve done musical theater all my life,” said Gonzalez, taking time from a recent rehearsal for school’s spring musical, “Into the Woods.” “I had a great mentor growing up in high school. My fondest memories are in my high school shows.”
After graduating from Reading High School, Gonzalez attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. During his time in the Big Apple, he studied with teachers from Juilliard and members of New York opera companies. After his formal schooling, Gonzalez hit the road touring in several shows, like “Aladdin” and “The Wind in the Willows.” He doesn’t have a favorite role in his performance repertoire; when pressed into answering the question, Gonzalez related fond memories of portraying Don Lockwood in “Singin in the Rain,” the part made famous by Gene Kelly. When he returned to the area he found a home at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.
In 2005, Gonzalez auditioned for the EPAC performance of “Evita.” He started with the organization as a chorus member and eventually took on the roles of assistant director and director.
“I’m very fortunate. I started with EPAC in 2005 as a performer and (Ed Fernandez) gave me a chance to choreograph a small show and then it built from there,” said Gonzalez. “This was just a natural transition for me. We can really work together to promote the arts. It is really based on mentoring and educating (students) to provide them with the tools they need.”
During the summer months, Gonzalez has run EPAC’s four-week Center Stage Theater Camp. He also directs and choreographs the company’s Kids 4 Kids productions. This year’s production of “Annie Jr.” was a big hit and Gonzalez hinted at a possibly bigger show for 2014.
“Having done the junior shows at EPAC, some students came to me and told me there might be an opening at the high school,” said Gonzalez.
It was true. This is Gonzalez’s first year at the high school and his first show, the play “The Miracle Worker,” took him out of his element.
“I’ve had my first opportunity to direct my first non-musical performance ever, here at Ephrata,” said Gonzalez. “It was really a challenge, because oftentimes in musical theater we rely on the song and dance to tell the story. In a drama, you really have to be clear with the story line and its subtext. Simplifying things was a real challenge, but it allowed me to experiment and explore an avenue as a director I was not used to. I think that having the dialogue with the actors has allowed me to not shy away from directing plays.”
Having good dialogue between all members of the production is important to Gonzalez. He finds the interpersonal connections the most rewarding part of working with students.
“You know when a person connects. You know when someone is genuine,” he said. “The most important part of what I do is just being a teacher and a mentor, how I bond with the students. We are making this not just what the director expects, but we allow the kids to take ownership of the process and in the character. We give the students the freedom to discuss where they want the characters to go.”
He says the approach has allowed many students to “come out of their shell.” Gonzalez likes the students to explore the question of why. For example, why is the character doing the things he or she does? Or, why does a character act a certain way?
“You have to provide a fun and supportive atmosphere that (students) can take away the feeling of being a part of something that is grand,” said Gonzalez. “It is so important for everyone to know they are a part of it, that there’s no favorite, that there (are) no egos, that we promote a safe and supportive environment for them.”
“Into the Woods”
“This has been a real journey,” said Gonzalez. “My hope was to do a big musical and we were thinking of ‘Suessical.’ When we had auditions, we had less than 30 people, so I really had to regroup with the production team and sort of start all over. That put us a month behind schedule. We really didn’t start working on this until late January.”
The team decided to produce Stephan Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” a tale of fairy tales, which balances morals with merriment as a group of characters (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, etc.) travel into the woods in search of “ever after.” The entire on-stage cast is comprised of 26 students.
“What made me choose ‘Into the Woods’ was that our cast has such a strong acting and vocal background. I thought, ‘I have to pick a show that will really showcase these actors.'”
“Into the Woods” was always one of Gonzalez’s favorite shows. The story tackles themes like friendship, loyalty, commitment, consequences, and responsibility; this is why he wanted to produce this show using high school-aged players.
“This is the right show to do at this time for these students,” said Gonzalez. “This will make an impression on the high school. It asks, ‘what happens to the ever after in happily ever after.’ I didn’t want to focus too much on the darkness, but I did want to show the lessons learned.”
He wants students who see the show to ask themselves how they can apply the lessons told in “Into the Woods” to their everyday life.
“Into the Woods” had its Broadway première in 1987, featuring a score by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The show has gone on to be one of the most revived of the composer’s work in both New York and London, with countless regional and amateur productions around the world.
Loosely based on Bruno Bettelheim’s, the characters finish Act One with the resolution of their tales, Act Two highlights the problems that occur when their wishes come true. A highly moral yet funny musical ‘Into the Woods’ is one of Sondheim’s most accessible musicals and an enjoyable show for all the family.
The cast for EHS’s production of “Into The Woods” includes:
Narrator/Mysterious Man:…Laird Farrington
Baker: ….………………….Brandon Straley
Cinderella’s Stepmother: Hannah Matangos
Cinderella’s Stepsisters: Melissa Kreider and Storm Wright
Little Red Ridinghood:…..Rachel Holochuck
Rapunzel’s Prince/Wolf:… Alec Lechlitner
Cinderella’s Prince:………Landis Wenger
Jack’s Mother:…………….Emily Vogt
Baker’s Wife:…………….Georgia Miller
Cinderella’s Father:……..Joseph Mateyak
Forest Villagers/Fairy Ensemble: Sarah Dover, Katelyn Fox, Erin Martin, Isabele Castle, Elizabeth Kreider, Natalia Roth, Samantha Moore
The Ephrata High School performers will present three showings of “Into the Woods,” in Hammon Auditorium starting this Friday April 19 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Saturday for two shows at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Adult admission is $10 and admission for children and students is $7. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office in auditorium lobby between 5:30 – 8 p.m. each night this week, by calling 721-1592 or by visiting easdpa.org.