Turmoil to triumph: the Parkway West Dramatics Company puts on a fiery show in “no time at all”


Lia Emry

Fully running through “Pippin” for the first time, sophomore Jack Mullen performs the opening number alongside his castmates to kick off tech week. Having been diagnosed with COVID-19 one week before the show, theater teacher and Director Amie Gossett relied on her students to step up to help the show run smoothly in her absence. “As a whole, this has been a very collaborative experience for all the kids. They’ve learned to take responsibility [while] pushing themselves to keep the show going. [They learned] to believe themselves in stepping outside of their comfort zone and to push for what they want,” Gossett said.

From a COVID-19 diagnosis to a broken wrist, the weeks before “Pippin” brought confusion, chaos and worry to the show’s cast and crew. So, how did the theater department transform turmoil into triumph?

“Pippin,” the tale of magic, merriment, lust and murder, hit the stage Feb. 24 and 25. Selling out on the opening night, “Pippin” is one of the best-selling shows produced by the theater department since theater teacher and Director Amie Gossett began teaching 20 years ago. 

“We weren’t exactly sure what type, level or even interest of talent we would have. We picked something that could show off singing skills and comedic acting, acrobatics and dance,” Gossett said. “We chose [“Pippin” because] we wanted something that could have a diverse cast.” 

After falling sick and numerously testing herself for COVID-19, Gossett tested positive with less than a week left before opening night. Having to isolate herself from students and staff, Gossett spent 11 hours alone at school programming the lighting cues needed for the show while delegating other duties to students.

Production Stage Manager and sophomore Disa Tiemeier runs the lighting booth during “Pippin” while communicating with other stage managers to ensure that all aspects of the show stay in sync. This was Tiemeier’s fourth time as a stage manager with the theater program, but the largest show they have been a part of. “I was really excited for the audience to see the original set change and the finale. They were incredible because of the original shock of it with the ‘aha’ moment,” Tiemeier said. “I loved all of Pippin and learning how to work with people, how to multitask and how to lead people to get a show going.” (Sravya Guda)

“[Getting sick] bothered me. Rather than being able to guide a student through lighting cues, I [had] to direct from my couch,” Gossett said. “The kids stepped up and took responsibility for finishing a lot of things that I was not initially willing to assign to them. But they stepped up. They said, ‘Just give us a list, and we will get it done.’ Watching them take the ownership of not only performing but also finishing up the show as a whole was great to see.”

For the Production Stage Manager and sophomore Disa Tiemeier, operating without Gossett was both a learning curve and a growing experience. While “Pippin” was Tiemeier’s fourth production as a stage manager, it was their first time with this role in a musical. So, aspects such as projections and quick changes were new to them.

“Gossett getting sick put us in a bit more of a powerful position. For me, that meant that there were a lot more questions that I had to answer for people. I had to do a lot of thinking on my feet while trying to see what would be best for us without a director, but also [make decisions] in line with what Gossett would want us to do. My experience from other shows gave me a lot of background [knowledge] on what to do, so I was able to pick up things quickly,” Tiemeier said.

In Gossett’s absence, math teacher, choreographer and Director’s Assistant Patrick Mooney filled in by running work calls, dress rehearsals and managing both cast and crew.

“One of the important things as a director is to maintain the status quo as best as possible, to assure the cast that we will figure it out, and they should continue concentrating on what they can control,” Mooney said. “[As] a generally upbeat person and the choreographer, singing and dancing is part of the territory, so it’s easy to make folks smile. Keeping myself in a good place helps the students stay in a good place.”

Accepting his director gift from the Production Stage Managers, math teacher, choreographer and Director’s Assistant Patrick Mooney prepares to address the company following their final performance. “Pippin” is Mooney’s 10th musical as choreographer and one of his favorite musicals of all time, featuring the song “Corner of the Sky,” which Mooney recalls is one of the pieces that drew him into theater as a kid. “[The show went] incredibly. It’s a different beast to be performing for a full house, and the audience was electric, which caused the actors to bring out parts of their performances that we hadn’t seen until the run,” Mooney said. (Sravya Guda)

Directors play a vital role in technical week, leading up to the first performance, during which the cast and crew combine lights, sounds, sets and costumes. For company members like ensemblist and senior Becca Larson, who had never participated in the theater program before “Pippin,” having to adapt to Gossett’s absence with a large portion of the cast being new to the program proved to be difficult.

“I felt really bad since I knew [Gossett] was already going to be very stressed [during] tech week. I also knew that we needed to [stay] focused and listen to Mooney and each other during the week to stay on track for what we needed to get done for the day,” Larson said.

Gossett was not the only person the company was at risk of losing: just one-day before the COVID-19 diagnosis, ensemblist, Dance Captain and freshman Evelyn Fitzpatrick broke the radius and ulna in her right arm.

“I wasn’t concerned about having something broken, but I was more worried about all the people counting on me with this show,” Fitzpatrick said. “I knew I was going to perform no matter what, but it was an immediate shift from doing everything independently to someone having to do something as simple as writing for me.” 

After undergoing surgery less than one-week before opening night, Fitzpatrick worked with choreographers to rework blocking and movements so that she could perform. Though she could do most of the original choreography, slight changes were made last minute to accommodate the arm cast, such as the floor work in the song “With You.”

Signing a poster for the directors as a memento, ensemblist and senior Becca Larson gets ready to perform in her debut production, “Pippin.” After initially auditioning solely because her friends wanted to, Larson found that she enjoyed being a member of the cast. “I was excited for the audience to see the production and all the hard work we put into it, and the show went amazing. There were hardly any mistakes, and I only heard amazing reviews from audience members,” Larson said. (Sravya Guda)

“[Fitzpatrick] getting hurt was a big shock; it was scary. I felt bad for her and hoped she would be able to return. Thankfully she did. For the most part, she was able to do everything, but during ‘With You,’ I took her spot [for] a few moments,” Larson said.

Fitzpatrick was cleared two days before opening night, being able to dance as long as her arm was aligned and protected. However, the near loss of two important production members in less than two days worried others.

“I was stressed when Evelyn got injured. I was really worried about her and stressed about the show because not only is she a person who got hurt, she’s a part of this big production that would be very much impacted,” Tiemeier said. “After we heard [about Fitzpatrick], we were all on edge for the rest of the day. We were worried about her, but we just kept going. In the end, it was all worth it. Realizing that when you had nothing, you kept going and persevered for the show was worth it.”

Looking out for themselves and each other, students became more cautious of injuries and illnesses following the incidents.

[I was excited for the audience to] see everybody’s hard work playing out on stage. They’ve put in so much time, and energy that being able to capitalize on their hard work and their dedication and to have it be such a successful representation of that is really exciting.”

— Amie Gossett

“I started making sure that everyone was taking care of themselves correctly, especially with the way our show’s built with stairs moving and all these big pieces and parts to make sure that we do our part to keep others from injury. Even though [Fitzpatrick’s injury] wasn’t related to those things, making sure that everyone else is in an environment where it is safe was important,” Tiemeier said.

Though the musical faced challenges, there was never a thought about canceling or postponing its performance dates. With over 60 people involved between cast, crew and pit, the production was composed of experienced and rookie actors, musicians, singers and dancers — all of whom had to rely on each other to get the production going.

“I was nervous that I wasn’t going to have fun with it since my friends had to push me to audition, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I learned it’s ok to try new things because you never know what you’re missing out on until you try it,” Larson said.

Ultimately, the theater department’s work paid off, as the show got roaring standing ovations at all three performances.

“We had some of the hardest working cast members, and the [investment] from the students was better, making it a strong performance,” Mooney said. “‘Pippin’ is one of my favorite shows. It’s a story everyone should hear because it’s very deep when you get to the heart of it.”