Sometimes you just need to laugh. With that thought in mind, an eight person team of students and faculty selected Neil Simon’s “Rumors” for this spring’s theater department offering. At the time, the committee had no idea of the importance the selection would eventually have.
Setting the Stage
Visual and Performing Arts Department Director Paige Gagliano says “Rumors” is hysterical. She remembers first watching the show on Broadway and laughing so hard her head hurt. To elicit those laughs everything about this farce has to be just right from the set doors opening and closing to the blocking of the 10 person cast. “Timing has to be impeccable,” says Gagliano. With three separate casts for a total of 30 performers, there is much to work out. Gagliano says assistant director and Episcopal senior Emily Lynch has done a tremendous job working out the little details. The cast has also given their all to the effort.
“We have been working extremely hard on this play and it means so much to all of us, so to be able to bring it to people and hear their feedback is one of the many reasons why I love acting!” India Lathan, junior
India Lathan may be relatively new to acting, but she has always had an interest in theater. “I never thought I wanted to pursue the performing arts, it was always something that I just loved to analyze, I never thought I would end up there until last year,” she says. India performed in her first play in Episcopal’s Black Box Theater last year. “I loved every part of it and that was when I knew I wanted to keep doing theatre!” India plays Claire in “Rumors” and says she hopes to one day minor or double major in theater.
“I gave it a chance, and it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in high school.” Abhay Basireddy, senior
Senior Abhay Basireddy is also new to the performing arts. He says he never thought about participating until it was time to fulfill an arts credit. He enrolled in the play production class and enjoyed the experience so much that he’s now portraying Ken in “Rumors.” “It’s a truly unique experience in terms of being authentic, creating a grand production from nothing but yourselves, finding an overwhelmingly supportive and accepting community, and making lots of close friends and connections with others, having a ton of fun along the way,” he says. Basireddy says after his own theater experience he recommends that other students give the arts a try. “I never considered myself an ‘arts kid’ or ‘theatre kid,’ but after I joined, I don’t want to leave.”
A common theme among the arts is the sense of community that is created from spending hours together rehearsing scenes and reviewing lines. This sense of togetherness is so important that Gagliano builds time for cast bonding into each meeting. Both India and Abhay say that feeling of community is the best part of the experience. “The cast of ‘Rumors’ has been one of the most accepting, authentic, and inclusive communities I’ve found on campus,” says Abhay. “The best part of this experience has been gaining a family and meeting people I never thought would have been interested in theatre,” says India. “Everyone is so sweet and supportive; they all truly care about this community and will stop at nothing to show it.”
Honoring a Legacy
This year’s play and cast have an unexpected connection to the original group of Episcopal thespians who first performed “Rumors” in 1995. Weeks ago, as Gagliano began distributing scripts and relating the background of the play, she had no idea that the student initially responsible for producing the play at Episcopal had passed away from a tragic incident. Dr. Lindley Spaht Dodson died at the physician’s office where she worked on the same day that the scripts with her handwritten notes were given to the current generation of Episcopal actors and actresses. Now the current production of “Rumors” is a way to honor Lindley who was inspired to bring the play to Episcopal her senior year. “We leave a little of ourselves everywhere and she certainly left an imprint on me,” Gagliano says of Lindley, who she describes as “joyful, loving, empathetic, caring and fun.” The original “Rumors” production was co-directed by Gagliano and former Episcopal theater director Danny Tiberghein, who was also lost in tragedy. Gagliano says she referenced Tiberghein’s binder and notes when re-introducing the play this year.
“What you do here matters,” says Gagliano. “You’re not simply passing through. You leave a mark on this place.” This year’s cast will honor the contributions of Lindley during the April 17th performance. There are photos and memorabilia sprinkled throughout the set, and the original cast members have recorded video messages of what the play meant to them all those years ago.
Congratulations to our senior thespians! These students are ready to give it their all in the Episcopal presentation of “Rumors.” Evan Meek as Lenny Gantz, Martha Rhodes as Chris Gorman, Madi Bell as Cookie Cusack, Andrea Norwood as Cookie Cusack, Marshall Pentes as Dr. Ernie Cusack, Charlie Roth as Lenny Gantz, Allen Stewart as Glenn Cooper, Emily Lynch Assistant Director and Abhay Basireddy as Ken Gorman. Don’t miss your chance to support these students on stage
If we’ve learned anything this school year, it’s that we truly are all in this together. With that in mind, Arts Department Director Paige Gagliano set out on a mission to celebrate the resiliency and spirit of community that in-person learning has required from students and teachers alike. What resulted was a Middle School play that provided hope, humor and joy in a way that only the arts can achieve.
Creating art of any kind this year has required determination and flexibility. However, the arts faculty have never wavered from their commitment to a meaningful student arts experience because of their belief that art has a significant role to play in helping people cope and connect. This year, students have continued making music together by practicing instruments outdoors and even hosting an outdoor band concert. In order to share the traditional “Jazz Nutcracker” dance performance with others in the Upper School community, the dancers were filmed, and the video shared during announcements. The Episcopal singers even found a way to continue the tradition of Lessons and Carols with a filmed rendition that was shared with family and friends.
When the time came to think about a Middle School theater production, that same determination held true. With “We’re All in this Together,” Gagliano and her students developed an offering that told the story of school life during these unique times. The story addresses distance learning, face coverings, the longing for regular school and the loss of loved ones. Ultimately, a sense of gratitude for what we have and all that has been accomplished prevailed, and students celebrated the sacrifices and commitment of everyone who has worked together to make sure learning continues.
Organizing the play was no easy feat. There were ongoing adjustments to the script, stage blocking and role assignment revisions and numerous starts and stops. “You know how it is doing a show about a pandemic during a pandemic…things happen,” says Gagliano. After the roller coaster planning process, the show made its debut. Students, families, faculty and staff truly appreciated the experience, with Middle School Division Head Mark Engstrom offering “appreciation of the Herculean efforts.”
As we celebrate the holiday season, we offer thanks for the spirit of a Knight that drives our community forward, whether it’s in the classroom, on the stage or on the field.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Did you know that you can learn about the human body in music class? At Episcopal, you can. Second graders recently teamed up with music teacher Tricia Delony to create the sounds of the digestive system. The result is what Delony describes as “good, clean, gross sounding fun.”
Before the students ever recorded a note, they learned more about Foley artists who use everyday objects and things they find to make sounds. Zippers, pinwheels, tape, bags, maracas and even a rubber duck were used as “instruments” to create audio for the mouth, stomach and intestines. As students explored the sounds generated by the objects, there were discussions on non-music related topics. Similar to a science teacher, Delony reminded students of the rule of inertia and how “instruments can’t make sounds by themselves.”
In no time, the music room was filled with the sounds of students squeezing discarded cough drop bags and knocking on wooden blocks. Delony displayed a photo overhead of an internal view of the intestines to provide inspiration, and the students created what Delony called the “pokey sounds of the intestines.” After the initial squeezing, shaking and exploring, students recorded their favorite sound for a compilation track. The recordings, when combined with the recordings of the other second grade classes, created the soundtrack of the human digestive system according to Episcopal second graders.
Episcopal Lower School students participate in music class once a week. The young students are immersed in the Kodaly and Orff method, using solfege and a wide selection of instruments and recorders. As students progress through Middle and Upper School, they build upon what they learned in Lower School and participate in band, choir and musical theater. Delony provides students the foundations of music to prepare them for the learning ahead. Choir director Carrie Poynot appreciates that the curriculum grows with the students as they advance. “It is also wonderful to get to know the students year after year,” she says. “I get the opportunity to watch them grow in their musical independence. I am lucky to take part in shaping their experience as they participate in our choral and musical theater productions.”
The National Association for Music Education points out numerous benefits for students who receive music instruction. On the association’s website, the organization lists positive behavior influences as well as improvements in a child’s spatial intelligence, ability for self-knowledge and expression, and an overall boost in processing language and reasoning abilities. NAfME representatives also share that “students with coursework/experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT.”
For now, the second graders simply enjoyed discovering imaginative ways to make new sounds inspired by a lesson in human anatomy. As they shrieked “ewww” and “gross,” it was clear that the lesson is sure to be a chart topper!
Second graders will show off everything they’ve learned about the digestive system with an interactive walk-through exhibit next week in the QUEST Center in Foster Hall.
Enjoy a preview of the digestive system soundtrack below.
The Episcopal Wearable Arts course is proof that art is meant for more than decorating walls or hanging in museums. Upper School students recently participated in a fashion photoshoot highlighting their wearable creations, which included everything from hats and earrings to boots and blue jeans.
The project was an opportunity for students to learn more about their family heritage as students were encouraged to create wearable art based on their origins. With family trees reaching back to France, Vietnam, Denmark, Germany, Scotland, South Korea and more, there was plenty of inspiration to be discovered.
The photoshoot was an opportunity to celebrate the students’ accomplishments. “With Music and Theater, students have a performance where all of their peers and parents acknowledge the hard work they’ve done,” says art teacher Veronica Hallock. “This was the first really big assignment the students completed. I wanted to create a finish line, where they could be excited for each other and celebrate what they created.”
Budding artists at Episcopal are fortunate to have a range of arts courses to explore. “With the arts being cut more and more, many schools don’t have the means to offer more specialized classes,” says Hallock. “I was fortunate enough to have a fiber arts class in my high school which was the inspiration for me wanting to start this class!”
From future artists to scientists and explorers, Episcopal offers academics to inspire and challenge tomorrow’s leaders. The new Wearable Arts course is sure to be a favorite for years to come. We know you'll enjoy these final creations. Leave these students a comment below congratulating them.
“Art is coming to the forefront during the pandemic, not because it is more important, but because we are having to reassess how we cope, and what we are finding is that art was always there ready to help, but now we are taking more time to create.” Veronica Hallock, Episcopal art teacher
From breadmaking to gardening, people have discovered creative ways in which to de-stress in a COVID-19 world. Now that the school year is underway, teachers and students are finding that an art project, a music lesson or a dance class can also make a difference. While the courses may look a little different, the impact is still the same. “The students seem to have a desperate need to move and a genuine need for something that is close to normal,” says dance teacher Christine Chrest. “I have found that my classes, Middle and Upper School, are more enthusiastic and focused than ever.”
Hallock says teaching visual art under the current circumstances is not really all that different from a traditional school year. She says the biggest challenge has been ensuring that students have the supplies they need to create both in the classroom and at home. “I am very fortunate that there are so many online art tutorials and resources, but the successes we are having is in large part because of the collaboration between parents and the school,” she says.
New Episcopal Band Director Marshall Farrell has transitioned from traditional instrument practice to teaching the concepts of rhythm, note-reading and music theory. He says there is an increased focus on the students composing their own music, and there have been great results. “The biggest blessing in disguise of this new curriculum is that it fosters student ownership in their work and creativity more so than a traditional band set up,” says Farrell.
By nature, art teachers are creative, which serves them well as they find new ways to provide an authentic art experience. “It has stretched our imagination a good bit,” says Chrest. “This year is different not only because of wearing masks and staying socially distant but primarily because of the loss of contact. So much of dance is about physical contact, partnering, supporting and lifting.” That creative determination is paying off. Recently, Chrest held auditions for Dance Ensemble which generated enthusiasm for a return to expression. Farrell says musicianship has continued this school year, even if it is in a different way.
While to date, teachers have found meaningful ways in which to continue providing arts, Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan permits more typical arts activities. Students will resume playing instruments and singing together. Hallock says it is important to resume art activities because of the sense of security and calm they provide. “Art teaches healthy emotional expression, it teaches fine motor skills, it is a safe space on campus for students who don’t necessarily feel like they fit, and it creates a balance to the objective and concrete thinking that happens in core classes by offering subjective and non-concrete problem solving.”
The arts have always been an important component of Episcopal’s whole-child experience. Through the creative and determined efforts of Episcopal’s arts faculty, students will continue to benefit from the experience despite the challenges that may exist.
“Be joyful because you have hope!” Romans 12:12
In the most recent Lower School Morning Meeting, religion teachers Jenny Koenig and Laura Portwood reminded students and families of this powerful verse and its ability to change our perspective. As we see images of professional artists singing from balconies, doctors playing piano in empty hospital atriums or even children creating positive messages with sidewalk chalk, we see this verse in action. Through art and creativity people are finding ways to stay connected and uplift one another in meaningful ways.
“We need to create- humans need to be creative, it’s a part of who we are on a cellular basis,” says Episcopal Visual and Performing Arts Director Paige Gagliano. “We tell our stories through song, paint, music and other characters. Personally, I feel I am closest to God when I am creating.”
Episcopal’s teacher/artists have helped students continue creating, finding innovative ways to do so during a time of Distance Learning. “Since the start of Distance Learning, my top priority has been to create a way for the show to go on in some capacity,” says Band Director Doug Gay. “The students (6th-12th grade) and I have been working on creating a ‘Virtual Spring Concert Series’ to present to the Episcopal community.” Students submitted videos of themselves playing the same song remotely and Gay spent countless hours compiling them into one united performance. The completed video series highlights the talent and dedication of Episcopal musicians. “This process has been very special to me, watching them continue to learn and grow, and laughing at the many funny comments they make in their video submissions,” says Gay. “I am incredibly proud of them.”
Members of the Episcopal choir also had the opportunity to perform. Students sang their hearts out in a virtual performance that was presented during a watch party attended by enthusiastic family members and friends. “This was a rewarding yet challenging endeavor that leaves me feeling fulfilled at the close of a bizarre school year,” says Choir Director Mary Kannenberg. “I am so thrilled that we were able to give the students an experience that seemed impossible and I’m so grateful to all the people that helped us get there.”
Like teachers in a range of subjects, the art teachers are all grateful for the opportunity to continue working with students. While it may seem difficult to teach art during separation, the educators found a way. "At first, I was skeptical about the online acting class for middle schoolers,” says theater teacher Joe Reynolds. “But, of course, they surprised me with imaginative lip-syncs, creative original monologues, comic newscasts, and truthful journal entries of their 'Life on Mars -- alone for 180 days!’”
In Lower School, students are also continuing to create. “Pre-K through fourth grade students have been given opportunities to reinforce music skills through games and interactive music sites and have listened and responded to many great works,” says music teacher Tricia Deloney. In addition, Deloney worked with fifth graders to create the much-anticipated STOMP performance using Seesaw. The final project will be up for viewing after the last Morning Meeting on May 20th.
Missing school, teachers and friends can be stressful, and that is where the art of dance can be helpful. “The one thing that I have done that I feel is important was to remind students to move, stretch and breathe,” says dance teacher Christine Chrest. Chrest says students have appreciated the reminder to work out the stress in this creative way and many of them said it was just what they needed.
Gagliano says there have actually been benefits for some students as a result of this new style of learning. “I found meeting my middle school students in smaller synchronous classes where we would rehearse monologues and discuss character development was really great BECAUSE I saw them come out of their shells and they were willing to take much larger chances in front of a group of four during a synchronous class,” she says. “They became open and vulnerable in ways that are difficult for any teen.”
Visual art teacher Karen Koprowski-Stout points out the benefits of tapping into the inner artist. “The visual arts develop one’s ability to problem solve, fail and succeed, fine motor skills, brain development and new connections as well as accessing the elusive FLOW STATE,” she says. Those problem-solving skills have proven quite valuable in Media Arts classes, especially among the yearbook staff. Teacher and yearbook advisor Dianne Madden says, “working off-campus on the yearbook, away from our files and computers took a lot of problem-solving from everyone. Through trial and error and a one on one with Adobe Creative Cloud, student leaders collaborated to create a system.”
Through collaboration and dedication, joyful learning has certainly not “gone dark” as they say in the theater world. It continues among Episcopal students in all divisions and all subjects. The efforts of those in Episcopal’s art department are just one of the many examples of faculty, staff, students and parents doing their part to inspire positivity and hope until we all meet again in person.
“There Are Days”
by Paul Taranto and Jamie Wax
Filmed by Michael Roth
Performed by Emily Knight ‘18 on closing night, two years ago this week, of Episcopal’s production of "Evangeline, the Musical"
Art provides tremendous inspiration in good times and in bad times. Episcopal arts department chair Paige Gagliano provides connection and support during this time of distance learning by reminding us of the classic "Evangeline" song "There Are Days." Read more from Paige below.
We’d like to share the song “There Are Days” from Episcopal’s production of "Evangeline, the Musical." This clip is from Episcopal’s closing night of "Evangeline, the Musical," two years ago this week, on the Episcopal stage and features Emily Knight ‘18. The show was composed by our very own Paul Taranto and written by Jamie Wax. We premiered the original musical at Episcopal in 1998 and this show was a source of hope at a difficult time for members of our Episcopal community.
It is our hope that this song once again unites our Episcopal community through hope and promise.
“I was around when the team breathed life into Evangeline, and I was at the first public performance at Episcopal all those years ago, Evangeline in Concert in Greer. This song, to me, is a song of being connected. It is a song not just of love, but of hope and promise.” Bridget Henderson, Lower School Division Head
“The ending lyric is what speaks to me the most ‘help me find a way to live within those precious days.’ Evangeline needs Gabriel to live through her dark times – she needs the ones she loves. She reminds us that in our dark times we need each other, through virtual communication and support. We cannot and will not let this situation separate us. Together we will find a way to live through these days as a community." Charlie Roth, Junior, Episcopal School of Baton Rouge
Can't get enough of Evangeline? Revisit these blog posts to relive all the magic.
Do you have an inspiring Episcopal memory or moment? Share it in the comments below.
Paige Parsons Gagliano began her career at Episcopal teaching and directing from 1993- 2001 and later returned “home” to Episcopal in the fall of 2013. At Episcopal Paige directs all the theatrical productions, teaches theatre as well as theatre and religion and serves as Director of Performing Arts. Paige is a 2006 Forty Under Forty Honoree by the Baton Rouge Business Report. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Education from Louisiana State University. Paige has 29 years experience in teaching and directing professional, community and educational theatre. She has directed over 50 theatrical productions to critical and commercial acclaim for organizations including LSU, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Baton Rouge Little Theatre, Baker Little Theatre and Playmakers of Baton Rouge. She is the past Executive Director at Theatre Baton Rouge, Development Director for The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and Executive Director of Community Fund for the Arts. Paige is actively involved in the community, having served as the Provisional Chair for the Junior League of Baton Rouge, a member of the LSU English Department's The Shakespeare Project, a board member for Playmakers of Baton Rouge and a featured speaker for the Capital Area United Way. She is married to Technical Director and Lighting Designer Louis Gagliano and they have three children.
“Mamma Mia!” There’s a lot in store in the Episcopal arts department this spring!
In February, 19 Episcopal students will travel to New York City for a whirlwind, three-day tour. Arts Department Director Paige Gagliano says this experience is a great opportunity for students who are interested in theater to learn more about the opportunities available to them. In just three days’ time, students will see three Broadway shows, participate in three Broadway theater workshops, visit two colleges and take in the sights and sounds of the city. They will do all this and still return home in time for Fat Tuesday festivities. In addition, 12 band students will travel to London for spring break where they will take in a concert and have the opportunity to perform. Even students in the visual arts program will have the opportunity for learning beyond the classroom once final details of their excursions are complete. Art-themed field trips are a great way for students to experience new places and explore their interests more in depth.
There is excitement around this spring’s musical theater production with a triple cast taking the stage in the musical “Mamma Mia!” Currently, 75 Middle and Upper School students are on the roster and Gagliano says by curtain time there could be as many as 80 students involved. “The talent has exploded,” says Gagliano of this up and coming group of student actors. She says “Mamma Mia!” provides a great opportunity for students to showcase a range of talents including acting, dancing and singing. Gagliano says “Mamma Mia!” was the perfect choice for this spring because of the student interest and enthusiasm. The cast is in their second week of music rehearsals as they prepare for a late March opening date.
Gagliano and the arts team are excited to have so many students involved in the arts. “It’s our job to give everyone an opportunity to find their passion,” she says. Gagliano says it’s rewarding to see students explore their artistic talents and find that it is something they enjoy. One such student is senior Rowan Reilly who has discovered an appreciation for performing after taking a theater production class and being cast in “Evangeline.” “I wouldn’t have guessed it going into high school, but turns out I like it,” he says. Reilly also appreciates the practical skills he has gained from his theater experience. As an example, he says he recently received positive feedback from his thesis counterparts for his confidence and annunciation. Hearing Reilly discuss his theater experience and the practical applications he’s discovered was music to Gagliano’s ears. It is this type of feedback that keeps her and her colleagues going. “A teacher allows the actor to discover,” she says. “A teacher encourages a focus on the process and not the end product. We want students to have a higher level of thinking and analysis and to ask why.”
Episcopal art teachers are also fostering the talent of visual artists. Junior Katie Knight will have her artwork entitled “Emily” on display in the LSU Statewide Juried High School exhibition. The show runs between February 7th and March 7th at the Foster Gallery on the LSU campus. This is the second year in a row that Knight has been featured in this exhibition. According to the LSU School of Art website, “the goal of the exhibition is to inspire young artists by providing a platform for their work to be displayed in a professional, artistic venue and thus giving them a taste of a professional artist experience.”
The arts are a key component of an Episcopal education. Whether a student aspires to be on Broadway or dreams of expressing their feelings through dance or drawing, there is an opportunity for everyone. Don’t miss your opportunity to support these talented students at an event this semester. In addition, look for Episcopal student artists at LAUNCH this spring. The artists will lead their classmates in creating a Chihuly sculpture for display in the VPAC. They will also have their own works on display.
Upcoming Spring Arts Events:
Spring musical: “Mamma Mia!”
Sunday, March 29 – Sunday, April 5th (Excludes Wednesday, April 1st and Saturday, April 4th)
Thursday, April 23rd at 7:50 am
Theatre Seminar performance
Wednesday, April 29th at 5:30 pm
Sunday, April 26th
Spring band concert
Thursday, April 30th at 7 pm
End of theYear Arts Banquet
Saturday, May 2nd at 5 pm
Don't Miss Episcopal's Jazz Nutcracker
The Episcopal dancers will present the "Jazz Nutcracker" on Tuesday, December 10th at 7 pm in the VPAC. The performance will feature 40 students in grades eighth through twelfth. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online here.
Congratulations to the Following Episcopal Artists!
After two rounds of auditions with musicians from the region and the state, senior Laura Kurtz earned a spot in the All-State Band! Laura earned second chair symphonic band on French horn. The All-State Band recently performed at the Louisiana Music Educators Association Conference. In addition to playing French horn, Laura also plays trumpet and piano.
Senior Alex Wilson and freshman Claire Kiesel auditioned and were chosen to participate in the 2020 Louisiana Music Educators Association District IV Honor Choir! Wilson and Kiesel auditioned with hundreds of high school students across East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Ascension and St. James Parishes. The singers were ranked individually and the top ten in each voice part qualified to participate in the Honor Choir. The choir will perform at First Baptist Church in downtown Baton Rouge in January.
Congratulations to junior Kathryn Knight and freshman Quirino Montaggioni! Both students recently had artwork recognized at the Kiwanis Pancake Festival.
With such a talented student body, it is no surprise that you can find many Episcopal students performing in productions throughout the community. Here are just a few of the upcoming opportunities to support our Knights beyond the Episcopal campus.
The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou
Several Episcopal students are in the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s production of "The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou" with performances on Saturday, December 14th and Sunday, December 15th.
Arlie Bond - Page
Jeanne Bosworth - Lamb
Julia Craven - Lamb
Brooksie Flettrich - Lamb
Ivy Jiang - Snow
Katherine Johnson - Lamb
Alexandria Messer - Cherub
Caidyn Moses - Mouse
Niecy Spinosa - Lamb
Trinittee Thyssen - Cook
Oscar Worrell - Child
Airi Ishibashi and Luna Alvarez also performed as snowflakes in the recent Great Russian Nutcracker ballet at LSU.
Guys and Dolls
Mark your calendar now for Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of "Guys and Dolls" which runs January 30th through February 2nd. The show features Episcopal students Cate Brien, Marshall Elliot and Samantha Schilling.
Episcopal’s presentation of “The Little Mermaid Junior” was anything but junior. Lower and Middle School students wowed audiences with impressive vocals and fun choreography – there were even a few flips! The set, lighting and costumes transported audiences under the sea with vibrant color and movement. It was another successful production that truly showcased the talents of these young artists and the arts department staff who support them.