The Wellesley High School Drama Department earlier this year welcomed Kara Sullivan as the school’s new Drama Specialist and Director. Kara came across the Kingsbury Street bridge from Wellesley Middle School, where she was a drama teacher for fifteen years. There’s no question that her predecessor Stephen Wrobleski is a tough act to follow, but Kara beat out over 60 other qualified applicants for the position and impressed the search committee with her enthusiasm and vision for the program.
She and Brian McManimon, WHS Tech Director since 2013, are now a team with the Fall musical under their belts as they look forward to the next show, the annual One Acts Festival.
Save the dates for One Acts at WHS:
Thursday, Dec 13, 2018 @ 3:30pm – 5:00pm & 6:30pm – 8pm
Fri Dec 14, 2018 @ 3:30pm – 5:00pm & 6:30pm – 8pm
I caught up with Kara and Brian (that’s Ms. Sullivan and Mr. McManimon to the students) to see hear all about the Drama Department doings. Here’s what they told me:
The Swellesley Report: Tell me about your jobs here at Wellesley High School.
Mr. McManimon: This is my sixth year here at the high school and the job has morphed multiple times based on the growth of the program and also the department needs related to being in a new building. A year after the new school opened I was hired on here to not only manage the technical part of the theater program but also to help grow it. We’ve now moved into a full crew and into classes in technical theater and have concerts and shows that have full tech capabilities. There’s this great collaboration with Kara and all the colleagues in the performing arts. It’s great to be a piece of the puzzle.
It’s kind of intense
Ms. Sullivan: My job is much more intense that it was in the Middle School, which is good. I knew I was in for a big change. Here at Wellesley High I teach four levels of acting. The kids choose to take acting and it’s a for-credit course. In addition to the teaching load I also direct three shows here.
Mr. McManimon: I direct one show in January. The January show will be By the Water by Sharon Rothstein. It’s also part of my graduate thesis to finish my program. It’s through Central Washington University for a master’s in Theatre Production. It’s designed for teachers, and this will be my capstone project. A couple professors from the program will fly out and see the production and discuss it with me and go over the whole process.
Swellesley: How did you each personally start out in theater?
Ms. Sullivan: I liked acting in middle school and high school. I came from a small New York town. I was mostly a dancer involved in dance production teams. When it was time to go to college I said, ‘Well I’ll go for acting because I like it and it’s fun.’ I went to SUNY Fredonia where I started with a BA in acting, with a dance concentration. Then I discovered directing halfway through and I figured that was more of what I wanted to sink my teeth into. So I started a lot of directing projects and choreograhapy projects. I decided after college to come to Boston to Emerson for theater education. (Kara has a Master’s degree in Theatre Education from Emerson College and a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from SUNY Fredonia.)
Swellesley: How about you Brian, how did you start out?
Mr. McManimon: It was an accident. My mom wanted me to be in a show and I said absolutely not. She said ‘What if you and your dad built the sets for Footloose?’ And I said fine. Tricky mom. So every Saturday in the fall I’d help build and that was sort of my first taste. Didn’t do anything after that show because I thought I was way too cool for it. Then I got sucked into it in high school and I haven’t lost the bug for set building since.
Swellesley: What have been your favorite performances at WMS or WHS?
Ms. Sullivan: So far it’s the fall musical. It’s so fun to work with the kids at this level who are so much more devoted to the craft. They know what they want to be doing and they’re doing it. The fall musical is huge. There are 84 kids in the cast, 57 in the crew, and 20 in the pit. I think one of my favorite shows over at the middle school, where I was for 15 years, was when I helped direct High School Musical in 2008. It’s popularity was at its peak, and we had 163 kids on the stage for that production. It was amazing. That’s definitely one of those moments when I wanted to pull out my hair most of the time, but to see 1/4 of the school’s students in that production was so memorable. It was so fun and I’ll never forget that experience.
Mr. McManimon: Yeah, the fall musical is huge. about 10% of the student body is involved in the show in some way. The favorite show I directed was Metamorphosis, which we did last spring. Probably the favorite show for tech would be Drowsy Chaperone in fall 2014. It was one of those shows where we really had big sets, big lighting numbers. It was our first time really pulling out all the stops, so that was very memorable.
Drama for drama-lovers
Swellesley: What are your favorite professional productions for your own enjoyment?
Ms. Sullivan: Cabaret is one of my favorites. I love the movie too. I’ve never seen a bad production of it. Also Jesus Christ Superstar. I do love rock operas. From youth, I loved Music Man because that was the first show that made me want to be in theater.
Mr. McManimon: I saw In The Heights with the original cast and that blew my mind because it exploded the whole genre and gave me a new look at what was possible in theater. I just adore that show. I would also say seeing two very different versions of Spring Awakening. I saw a version in which they incorporated American Sign language into the show, and just the way they did it was so amazing.
It’s a growth industry
Swellesley: Any stories about your students you’d like to share?
Mr. McManimon: Coming from Pace (where he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Technical Theatre and Theatre Design), some of my students have gone there so from a personal pride aspect that’s great. They’re happy, healthy, doing what they love, and succeeding. So many kids come in shy and are trying something for the first time, but then you see them come out of their shell, grow and come into their own. That’s really rewarding.
Ms. Sullivan: You always wonder as an educator how you are impacting the lives of your students. And at the middle school level it was very common to have a lot of kids in class who are extremely shy and taking drama for the first time. They didn’t know what to do with themselves emotionally and physically, let alone what they’re supposed to do in a drama class. I do recall years later a student who was always very, very shy in my class came back years later to the middle school to find me and tell me that the class had had an impact on him and he had never forgotten how much he enjoyed being a part of that class.
Swellesley: How are things with your budget? How do you do it all?
Mr. McManimon: Ticket sales. The entire drama budget and tech budget comes out of ticket sales. We have also been given very generous grants over the years from POPs (Parents of Performing Arts) and WEF (Wellesley Education Foundation). For example this year alone we got almost $50k of LED lighting for the stage through a WEF grant, and then POPs gave us a grant for wireless headsets. An anonymous donor through POPs gave us a set of wireless microphones. So in terms of operating each show it’s based on our ticket sales. So we kind of bank on the musical to do really really well and then hope that the others shows break even. But it’s all based on ticket sales and the generosity of WEF and POPs.
Ms. Sullivan: There are also so many parent volunteers who do so much for us. Also we network with other area theaters to lend each other support and costumes, for example, as we are able
Swellesley: What are three words to describe your job.
Ms. Sullivan: Rewarding, challenging, amazing.
Mr. McManimon: Inspiring, challenging, humbling.