Mary Poppins to Feature Impressive Technical Work

With Oakcrest’s production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins only a couple weeks away, it’s easy to imagine the hours of singing, dancing, and acting rehearsals needed to prepare for this beloved musical. What might not be as obvious is the incredible amount of work that goes into the ambitious technical side of the show.

Director Dr. Kristin O’Malley notes, “While it is easy to see the work of the students onstage, our students offstage are equally dedicated, and they work quietly and humbly behind the scenes to make the show possible.”

Thirty-five student crew members are working together to bring Mary Poppins to life. The show’s story takes place in eight locations, requiring frequent and challenging set changes. With 175 unique characters (each member of the ensemble plays multiple roles), the show has over 120 costume changes, requiring hundreds of costume pieces, as well as 100 props. Additionally, the production will feature numerous special effects, such as a hatstand that comes out of Mary Poppins’s bag, a cabinet that falls apart and then rights itself, and a cake that rises onstage. 

Under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. O’Malley and Oakcrest science teacher and theater tech veteran Mrs. Heather DeLisle, each technical aspect of the show, from set design to costumes to sounds and lights, is led by an Oakcrest student. Grace McDonnell ‘22 serves as the set designer of Mary Poppins. She creates designs and then works with Oakcrest dad Tom Crishock (Eli ‘20) to make them a reality. Mr. Crishock leads a team of alumnae dads, current Oakie dads, brothers, and faculty spouses to build the sets, while Grace organizes students to paint each piece after it is constructed. The process takes many weeks of work—set builds have been going on every Saturday of January and February from 9:00 am - 3:30 pm. 

Meanwhile, Oakies Sophia Miller ‘23 and Catherine Mochen ‘25 are in charge of designing, finding, and organizing the show’s many costumes. This involves a combination of repurposing costumes from previous years, buying some pieces either new or from a thrift store, and collecting pieces from students. Freshman Carolina Percovich is the hair and makeup designer and heads a team of five students to provide hair and makeup for the cast. Prop designers Clare West ‘25, Mary Shelton Hooff ‘25, and Patricia Rolwes ‘23 find or create all props. Assistant Stage Manager Lucy Carney ‘25 will ensure that each prop is in its proper place during the show and that all cast members have the correct props at the right times. 

Putting on the show at Ernst Theater has provided Oakies with new and exciting technical opportunities. “The Ernst Theater has helped us in many ways,” Stage Manager Franny Barvick ‘22 explains. “Their equipment has allowed us to include many of the signature Mary Poppins special effects and the layout and size of their stage has made it significantly easier for us to do set changes quickly and stay organized backstage.” 

Dr. O’Malley adds, “Given the scope of the show, the lighting is intrinsic to helping us make all of the location changes in the show possible. We are incredibly blessed by the fact that the Lighting Designer & Master Electrician at Ernst, Maggie Riegel, is willing to teach our students the foundations of lighting design and allow them to work with the light board.” The lighting team, led by Sofia Cipollone ‘23, will have two days in Ernst to design and practice the lighting before opening night of the show. Therese McGovern ‘22 will guide three other students in working sound for the show, and she will be responsible for making sure all actors’ microphones are on at the proper times. 

All of this work requires significant time and labor. Most crew members are juggling the responsibilities of the show with other extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.They give up significant portions of their weekend to help with tasks such as set builds. Older students not only lead their teams, but also make sure to mentor younger students so that their technical knowledge is passed on after they graduate from Oakcrest. Thanks in large part to their generosity and hard work, Mary Poppins will be a show to remember. 
    • Tech crew members assemble a set piece.

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