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The City Journals

Hillcrest High theatre students tour and learn in NYC

Oct 31, 2016 11:35AM ● By Julie Slama

In September, members of Hillcrest High School productions company and stage crew attended workshops and shows in New York City. (Marie Otto/Hillcrest High School parent)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Midvale, Utah - Hillcrest High senior Jack Ahlander didn’t expect to dance with “Hamilton” understudy, who later performed as Alexander Hamilton, Jon Rua, when he went to New York City with stage crew and production company classes.

“We had a dance workshop with Jon Rua where he taught us the choreography to ‘Yorktown,’ in ‘Hamilton,’” he said. “It was super fun, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. He told us that he was where we are just a few years ago and built up our confidence.”

That experience led senior Gracie Otto to think about dance and theatre as a profession. Gracie has been dancing for 15 years.

“It was really cool to work with someone in the industry and see what he does every day,” she said. “It put it into perspective and it’s something I’d consider really looking into doing.”

This was one of many opportunities that about 40 Hillcrest theatre students had while on their five-day tour to New York.

“It’s a cool experience to learn what acting should be like, to talk with professionals and have opportunities that we can’t have here,” Jack said.

Inspiring his students is why theatre director Josh Long has planned the trip for September rather than a traditional spring break trip.

“We want to motivate them, to have them understand what they can strive for, so we can work for that all year,” he said.

During the tour, the students saw a variety of shows from the Tony Award winning best revival in “The Color Purple” to wearing headphones during the one-man show, “The Encounter.”

“Those were amongst the favorite shows of the group. ‘The Color Purple’ was very powerful and emotional experience for our students as they learned about her strength and journey. ‘The Encounter’ came from London and is just mind blowing. It was based upon a true story of a National Geographic photographer lost in a remote area of the Amazon and how that changed his life. The performer made the sounds of the jungle to engaging us in his inner thoughts,” Long said.

The group also saw “Phantom of the Opera,” “Aladdin,” “The Humans” and had a choice of seeing “The Cherry Orchard” or “Holiday Inn.” 

Before and after each show, Long and students would talk about their expectations and their interpretations of the performers, set and show.

“The talk-backs were really helpful to learn about everything in a briefing before the show and to see if we picked up on all the symbolism and subtle parts of the show. It was great to learn others’ perspectives on the shows,” Gracie said.

Another part of the trip she appreciated was talking to New York actors. Long had arranged for the high school students to talk to Hillcrest graduates who now are involved in New York theatre from being a Broadway producer, to acting on national tours to being a student studying theatre in the city.

“It’s very difficult, but very rewarding. You have to really love it and realize that you want to do it or you don’t to make it there,” Gracie said.

Her mother, Marie, was a chaperone on the tour.

“These Hillcrest alumni told our students that when they move to New York, they need $10,000 to $15,000 saved to live there while they look for jobs in the theatre and work part time. While they may be working in one job, they are looking for the next since typically, they only last six months to one year. It was illuminating for the kids,” Marie Otto said.

With several chaperones, the group was able to see some New York sights in smaller groups. The students had a chance to run or swim at Coney Island, visit the 9-11 Memorial, row a boat in Central Park, walk the Brooklyn Bridge, look for souvenirs at the annual Broadway Flea Market and even eat lunch at Grand Central Station, a popular movie site location.

There were other opportunities for the Hillcrest students as some of the cast in the upcoming “Peter and the Star Catcher” got to visit the Lincoln Center library to see the Broadway version on tape, Long said. 

Stage crew students got to tour The Gershwin Theatre and Jazz at Lincoln Center concert hall, where they learned how they fireproofed the curtains, learned about the light board and automated systems, saw the light riggings, walked the cat walks above the stage and talked to technical professionals. They even learned that there were 10 loads of laundry every night, said stage tech and technical theatre teacher Giselle Gremmert.

Others practiced their monologues and scenes pieces in Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden. 

Those students, and others who made up the school’s 54-member ensemble team performed the piece, “Sir Thomas More,” in early October when they competed along with more than 3,000 others from across the state and region at the annual Utah Shakespeare High School Competition in Cedar City.

In Cedar City, the team earned second place finishes in sweepstakes. They also earned second and third place finishes in duo and trio scenes as well as third place in ensemble.

Hillcrest’s next performances will be “Mary Poppins” when students perform on their own stage, at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17 through Saturday, Nov. 19 and again, Monday, Nov. 21 at the high school, 7350 South 900 East. Tickets are $10 and available online at

“It’s a fun, inspiring show with a strong script and a chance for us to bring so much magic to the show. Bert, played by junior Luke Morley, will be dancing upside down and there’s always magic involving Mary,” Long said.

The 300-member cast features senior Katie Ashton as Mary Poppins; junior Nathaneal Abbott as George Banks; junior Annee Burton as Mrs. Banks; freshman Eliza Luker as Jane; and middle-schooler Joseph Abbot as Michael.

The rest of the season includes the high school premiere of “Peter and the Star Catcher,” Jan. 18, 20, 21 and 24, 2017; the United States’ premiere of D. H. Lawrence’s “Husbands & Sons,” Jan. 19, 21 and 23, 2017; William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” March 17, 18 and 20, 2017; and the original physical theatre piece created for Hillcrest, “Mirrors,” May 18-20, 2017.

Season tickets are $25 for all of Hillcrest theatre will be on sale at “Mary Poppins” performances.