Musical theatre thrives at Hamilton Schools

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

A scene from Hamilton Local Schools’ 1995 production of “Peter Pan” directed by Mark Frazier.

Music still fills Mark Frazier’s life four years after he retired from Hamilton Local Schools in 2017 after spending 31 years as a band director and 22 years during the same period as the district’s musical director.

Frazier started out with productions at the middle school, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Then, in 1995, he was asked to start a yearly school district musical.

Today, as part of an extracurricular contract, he continues to direct seventh graders through senior students in Hamilton’s annual musical, often shepherding 50 to 75 cast and crew, along with a production staff and 15 to 20 adult volunteers.

“During the past 31 productions, I have worked with just under 2,000 students,” said Frazier, who directed five middle school musicals and 26 district productions. “The only year we did not produce a show was last year due to COVID.”

The selection process for the next show starts about seven months before opening night. For Frazier, it starts in September with research on possible musicals. In November, he gets approval from the district and rights from the company who holds the copyright for the show.

“Many things go into the selection process,” said Frazier. “Can we do vocals? Can we get the rights? Can we technically handle the show? Can we finance the show and is it age appropriate for our students? Finally, is it a production that the community would enjoy?”

In December, before the start of winter break, Frazier begins the cycle again of casting the show, followed by Monday through Friday rehearsals starting in January. Set construction takes place on the weekends.

“There are many different things I enjoy about doing the musical,” Frazier said. “First, is watching how the cast and crew grow into their roles and responsibilities. Second is getting to bring a script to life. Third is the great staff and group of volunteers that I get to work with. Finally, working with the cast and crew keeps me young.”

Funding a full-scale production is derived from the profit made from the previous year’s production ticket sales and proceeds from a drama parents’ organization, candy bar sale, concession stand and community and business donations.

“We could not do these musicals without our great parent and community volunteers,” said Frazier.” We have many volunteers who still help out even though their child graduated from high school. They perform many important jobs—sewing, set construction, painting, lighting, sound, costuming, fundraising, ticket sales and concession stand.”

Frazier said all productions have their own particular challenges, such as 1995’s “Peter Pan” because of flying actors and a very large cast. Another was “Shrek” in 2019 because of technical difficulties and “West Side Story” due to the large amount of dancing that was required.

A move from a 1939 stage shared with the athletic department and a tech box with limited viewing changed things for the better when a state-of-the-art auditorium opened in 2009 after a new high school was built.

“When designing the stage and auditorium, we wanted a space that could be used by the whole district for concerts, meetings, school presentations and the musical,” said Frazier. “When the building opened, the performing arts wing included fly space, control room, dressing rooms, orchestra pit, scene shop, garage doors, new lighting and sound and more storage. It is also great that the wood shop, band room and choir room are located nearby, instead of on the opposite end of the building. The only thing I miss about the old building is its history and the amount of backstage space we had.”

While still performing in the old building—which did not have the benefit of air conditioning—exhaust fans cooled off the auditorium during intermission. During a performance, the fans were turned off, but a set of flaps did not close. A storm moved in, with hard rain and intense winds and rain started to blow in on the audience and orchestra. Dressed in a suit and tie, Frazier crawled out on the roof with a staple gun and tarp.

“I attached the tarp over the unclosed flaps, as the show was continuing,” said Frazier. “I was totally soaked by time I got off the roof. Then I had to go out for bows dripping wet, but the orchestra and audience remained dry.”

After the final bow, storage of costumes, props, furniture and sets used throughout the years is spread throughout district buildings, including the old middle school. Costuming is stored in the dressing room closets and a room located sided the stage. Sets are disassembled, reusable lumber and hardware are put in storage and some larger set pieces stored in out buildings.

The production dates for the 2022 musical (the show is still to be selected) are March 17 at 7 p.m.; March 18 at 7 p.m. and March 19 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Ticket sales start the beginning of March. For information, follow the Hamilton Local Schools’ website and/or Facebook page.

For information about volunteering or any other questions, call the high school at 614-491-8044 ext. 1800 and leave Frazier a voice message.

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