MONTROSE, N.Y. – Scrap wood, a lot of paint and well over 100 hours of work per student go into each annual full-scale play produced at Hendrick Hudson High School. Over six dozen students participate in the play, from back-of-house stagehands to actors and even costumers.
“This is what they do, this is their life,” said chorus teacher, Erica Denler. She and two other teachers co-direct the plays. This year the school is putting on a full production of “The Pajama Game,” the story of workers at the Sleeptite pajama factory who fight for a seven-and-a-half cent raise.
Play budgets are nearly nonexistent. Proceeds from candy, t-shirts and admission are used as fundraisers for new curtains and lighting, amenities for which the extra-curricular theater program has no funding. The leftover income, after concession proceeds are saved, are spent with miserly caution to repair costumes and purchase must-haves for next year’s production.
Last year Hen Hud performed “Grease” at the “Metropolitan Awards,” along with 38 other schools from Rockland County and Bergen County, N.J. Suzanne Schneider, another co-director, says other contenders in the “Metros” can spend thousands on costumes and sets, while Hen Hud performers go with confidence and frugal creativity.
“Other schools spend an enormous amount of money on sets they rent, and costumes they rent, and on a lighting designer and a costume designer, and we have students doing it all. We believe strongly in student collaboration,” said Schneider.
Once students begin working on the plays as freshmen they often perform, sew or light the stage for the other three years of high school.
Students hang in the auditorium Wednesday afternoons, waiting for rehearsal to begin. As Schneider explains, the stage crew must work for an hour each Wednesday afternoon to accomplish all set work necessary before a March debut.
“Honestly, I think the number one thing is camaraderie,” said Schneider. “Learning how to work with others, learning how to work towards a goal, and the specifics of how to use a saw, and how to change a light and a gel and which one do you use, and they get all those pieces that can help them appreciate theater when they go see theater.”
These students, she says, would not otherwise be on the football team. “They’d be wandering the streets, they wouldn’t have anything to do. We do have a speech and debate team which a lot of them are involved in, so I don’t know what they would do the other days,” she says.