“Matilda” Brings the World of Theater to Pawling Middle Schoolers
Pawling Middle and High School vocal director Jeffrey Easter sat on the floor in the middle school music room encircled by raised hands. He was patient and concise as questions from students poured in.
“How do the sets work?”
“When are we going to start rehearsing at the high school?”
“What's tech week?”
This impromptu question-and-answer session took place during a gathering of eager student actors at a recent rehearsal for Pawling Middle School’s fall musical, “Matilda.” The play tells the poignant and whimsical story of a remarkable girl who uses the power of imagination – and telekinesis – to overcome her struggles with an abusive family and needlessly vicious school headmistress.
The fifth production of its kind at the school, “Matilda” was carefully selected by Easter from a number of student suggestions. He said that it was ultimately chosen based on the story, as well as the freedom to offer a greater number of cast members the chance to shine.
“It's a beautiful musical with lots of roles and solos – more than many others that we could have gone with,” he said. “I liked having the opportunity to give more students something special to perform.”
Easter explained that participating in a theater production is a new adventure for many of the cast members, a significant number of whom are fifth graders as well as many students who have never been onstage before.
“Quite a few are new to the whole experience,” said Easter. “There are lots of questions and there is a lot of learning happening as the newer kids get more and more familiar with it.”
Sixth grader Adriana Benedetto – who splits the title role between two performances with Kylie Imondo, also in sixth grade – is one of those students. Although she was initially nervous about the responsibility that comes with stepping into such a prominent role, she said that her fellow cast members have been welcoming and supportive.
“Everyone is working together and learning from each other,” said Adriana. “It's a really nice environment. Nobody is looking at me in a bad way for being new. “I'm not scared anymore – just excited.”
Representing Miss Honey, Matilda's sweet and sensitive teacher, is eighth grader Elizabeth Walsh. She spoke about how her past her involvement with middle school musicals paved the way for her prominent role.
“I really love being in musicals and am so excited to be playing Miss Honey,” Elizabeth said. “It feels especially important since it's my last play here before high school. “I'm glad that I can use what I know to help the newer students before I leave, too.”
The fall musical became part of the middle school arts experience in 2019 when the school put together its first play: a production of “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Middle School Principal Megan Gleason expressed her pride at being able to extend this opportunity to students year after year.
“Once we got a couple of years behind us, it became part of the institution,” she said. “It takes a lot of support from the entire school community, especially the parents. It’s become a special way to bring us all together in offering our students extra exposure to the world of the arts.”
“Matilda” will take place November 17 and 18 in the Pawling High School auditorium and is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased at the front door before the performances: $10 for adults and $5 for students.