When people ask, “who were you in high school?” that’s an easy question to answer. I was a theater kid! Freshmen year I was one of only *two* freshmen cast in the fall play of Stuart Little, and did props for our spring musical production of Les Misérables. Sophomore year we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I played Egeus. Junior year I was the dramaturg for the fall play (a word and role I have literally never encountered since), and was then granted the lofty job of being the stage manager for the spring musical, Children of Eden. Senior year I played Stephano in The Tempest, and returned to my role of stage manager for spring musical, The Secret Garden. When I told my high school theater teacher that I didn’t want to go to college for stage management, she was pissed.
This is all to say that yes, clearly I am an expert when it comes to the high school theater scene, and I am allowed to say that the productions — read, multiple PRODUCTIONS — that are put on during the pilot of NBC’s new series, Rise, are batshit insane. As former high schools stage manager who used to have to wrangle a 40+ cast of cranky and hormonal high schoolers 2-3 times a week (and 8 days a week during tech week), I almost broke out in hives watching the pilot.
Here’s the lowdown on Rise: The theater bug has bit Ted Mosby. Sorry, the theater bug has bit Josh Radnor, who plays high school teacher Lou Mazzuchelli. Almost out of the blue, Lou decides that he wants to take over the theater department and revamp it. Okay, cool, love a man with a musical theater dream, but Rosie Perez’s Tracy Wolfe is already running the theater department, and she’s halfway through staging a production of Grease.
Ted Mosby Lou doesn’t really seem to care that the school is already halfway through a production of Grease, because he has bigger, bolder ideas. He wants to do Spring Awakening. And like I said, love a man with a theater dream, but it seems that Lou doesn’t have the slightest clue how staging a high school musical works.
Ted Mosby, do you know how much it costs to get the rights to stage a musical? It’s like, a shitload. Why do you think my high school had to do Children of Eden after Les Misérables? It’s because we literally spent all our money getting the rights to Les Misérables. Right on the Samuel French website — a dude every theater kid knows — it outright states that: “Grease is a premier, high royalty title that requires further information to license.” You can’t just *do it* even if you know all the words to “Grease Lightning.” And you can’t just cancel it mid-way through production. You do not get your money back.
But, Spring Awakening it is! So Lou decides to stage Spring Awakening, and literally cuts the entire Grease cast, and holds new auditions for Spring Awakening. It happens in about 10 mins on the show, but in reality this is like a 2-week process, and even longer if there are call backs or any sort of dance audition. This is not taking into account the emotional toll these young theater-loving kids are going through right now.
And just an FYI: You can’t license Spring Awakening through Samuel French, but rather Musical Theater International. They have a cost estimator for the show, and I’m just spitballing numbers here based on what I remember from high school, but here’s how much it would roughly cost Ted Mosby to do Spring Awakening:
One of the major talking points of the pilot is that *the school doesn’t have any money.* That’s why it’s so easy for Ted Mosby to stage a coup d’etat and take over the theater department — he’s doing it for half the price. And now he’s spending double that to do Spring Awakening.
But! Spring Awakening does not last long and Ted Mosby is booted from the theater department because HELLO DO YOU KNOW THE PLOT OF SPRING AWAKENING? Even in totally woke schools, it is not a show 14-18 year olds should be putting on. Two characters literally have sex on the stage, there’s an abortion, and also a suicide. Not really fun-for-the-whole family.
Okay, so now Mosby is out, and Tracy is back in, and the kids in this production don’t seem at all bothered by any of this. If the kids in my productions weren’t out of the theater by 6pm, they would literally *riot.* And if they didn’t riot, their parents waiting in cars outside to pick them up would riot, and come in and yell at me because little Jimmy and Susie needed to get home for dinner and homework. But sure, just keep swapping directors, it’s fine.
Now, since Tracy is a smart and sensible theater lady, they go back to their production of Grease. …is what would happen in any other situation. instead, the school decides to do Pirates of Penzance?? Because they already have the costumes?? Even though they already had half the sets made for Grease?? Why. Honestly, why.
I’m just thinking back to how one time, junior year, ONE actor had to drop out of the production and we literally needed *two weeks to recover from it* because it took two weeks to rearrange roles to cover the absence. And it wasn’t even a starring role, the dude was like, in the chorus. But yeah, sure, try staging three different shows over half a semester, no one will question it. The kids will be fine.
Just when you think “my god, considering they can’t get their shit together now, how will they survive a week of TECH?” Ted Mosby comes back, they burn all the costumes from Pirates of Penzance in a bonfire, and go back to Spring Awakening.
Once more for the people in the back: TED MOSBY BURNS ALL THE COSTUMES FROM PIRATES OF PENZANCE.
And this all happens over the course of an hour, when honestly the drama of staging and canceling a high school musical production is something I would literally like to see spread out over multiple episodes. My god, I would love to watch the drama of having to tell the lead in Grease that she’s not going to be Sandy anymore. That’s the kind of hour-long drama I want to watch. I know for a fact I can’t sing which is why I was never cast in any of the school’s musicals, but I still cried every time I didn’t make the cast list, OKAY?
Oh, and we haven’t even discussed the actual students in this production, but honestly, we don’t have time to do it right now. What’s important is that the kids are doing Spring Awakening, even though I’m like 90% convinced Ted Mosby didn’t bother to get the rights to it, which means that there might be an upcoming episode about what happens when you’re school is sued for staging a musical without securing the rights. I’m excited!