This weekend, students at MaST Community Charter School, at 1800 Byberry Road, will perform Willy Wonka in their auditorium.
The drama program at MaST, 1800 Byberry Road, has experienced quite a few changes over the years, but members feel as if their upcoming show will be their best yet. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, students at MaST for the first time will perform Willy Wonka in their auditorium.
MaST is already well known for receiving academic awards from various local and national outlets. A couple of months ago, MaST was awarded the 2017 National Blue Ribbon award from the United States Department of Education. MaST was just one of two schools in the city of Philadelphia to receive this award in 2017 and the only charter school in the state of Pennsylvania. Just last month, the School Reform Commission denied six charters and approved only one, another MaST. The Northeast Philadelphia community knows the education at MaST has set the school in a league of its own, but Steve Schmidt believes their plays are now officially on par with other schools in the region.
Three years ago, Steve Schmidt and first-grade teacher’s aide Melissa Hartner took over the drama program at MaST. For several years leading up to the change in management, the school’s club had rotated to including students ranging from first to 12th grades to exclusively the upper grades in participating in the plays. With Schmidt and Hartner at the helm, they decided it was in the club’s best interest to once again include students from first to 12th grades in their school productions.
Grace Coyle, a 12th-grader at MaST, has been involved with the plays for the past 11 years, but at one point it did not seem likely she would continue to be a member of the drama club.
“I was actually going to stop doing the plays, but once (Schmidt and Hartner) took over I liked the direction they were going,” said Coyle. “The main goal was to have fun and ever since I’ve gone into this play with them, I think this is my second year doing a play with them, they’ve made it fun. They’ve accomplished that goal.”
Coyle will be playing the role of Violet in the play, as she describes, “blueberry girl who blows up.” She has cherished the opportunity to perform in front of the audience for years and be a member of what she says is an “inclusive club”, but is especially enjoying the leadership role she has taken for this year’s play.
“Second grade, going into it (her first year), it was filled with big kids and you wanted to hang out with the big kids,” Coyle said. “Now that I am technically a ‘big kid’ compared to these first-graders I’m in the play with, it’s just a whole different perspective.”
The tight-knit club makes sure everyone is held to task, but the opportunity to lead the younger students in more than just the play has made everything worthwhile for Coyle.
“I like being there to guide little kids, and help them with their homework, help them with staging, but then I also get to put my perspective into staging on singing and how people should act,” Coyle said. “I get to take on a leadership role, which I don’t think most schools would do that.”
Although Coyle is gearing up for college, she and other 12th-graders are getting ready to pass the torch onto the younger members of the club. Age does not simply determine how big of a role you have in the club, as one can see from Justin Dydak.
Dydak, an eighth-grader at MaST, had an older sister involved in the plays and decided to give it a go in second grade. This year, Dydak is excited to take on the role of Mike Teavee, whom he describes as “small spoiled brat, that’s always down on his Gameboy.”
For the past couple of years, Dydak has played a wide range of different important roles in the school play, but is eager to enter unchartered territory for him in this new role.
“It’s exciting to do this role because it’s something I’ve never done before, being like a little kid like this,” said Dydak of “Mike Teavee.” “In past roles, I’ve been an adult or an animal, but now this time I’m being a little kid.”
With the show just days away, the 90-plus students involved in the play are ready for their roles for the “largest production the school has done thus far,” says Hartner.
Hartner, the producer, and Schmidt, the director, have been responsible for selecting the plays the past couple of years, but decided to switch up the process in how they selected this year’s play.
“We try to pick the shows depending on our student population,” said Hartner. “What do we think will fit with the students that we have, that are coming out, the students that we have the year before, transfering over.”
With all of that in mind, Schmidt and Hartner thought it was time to give the students the opportunity to select what play they perform. The two of them narrowed down the options to three plays and let the students vote on what they would like to perform for this year’s play, and Willy Wonka won in a landslide.
The results of Willy Wonka winning by a large margin did not surprise Coyle.
Speaking of plays MaST has performed in past years, “They’re all really good plays and I really enjoyed participating in them, but I feel like Willy Wonka has this certain notion that goes with it,” Coyle said. “It’s just fun, it’s candy, it’s bright colors, it’s like imaginative.”
From the students’ countless hours rehearsing their lines to the parents’ involvement of making the props for the play, the team effort from MaST’s drama club members shows why they are confident in the direction of the program.
“We’ve come a long way from the last couple of years,” said Schmidt.
He cited the various high schools in Northeast Philadelphia with that he believes have elite athletic and drama programs, and thinks MaST can finally say they are in the same conversation.
“I feel MaST is now at that level,” said Schmidt. “I would put my kids at the same level of those schools.”
Hartner echoed these sentiments from Schmidt and although the school is well known in particular for the education, she thinks the drama program is definitely on the map.
“We are well known for a lot of the programs we have,” said Hartner. “I do believe that the arts are up and coming.”
Tickets for the show are $10 at the door. Times are 7 p.m. on Friday, March 9, Saturday, March 10, at 2 p.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday March 11.••
John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com