JANESVILLE—Over the past 11 years, Parker High School has performed a number of outstanding musical productions that have had area theater-goers clamoring through its doors.
Recognizing the prestigious program’s impact on not only the local community but also the student body, the Janesville School District approved a plan to create a new chapter with the introduction of the Parker Arts Academy at the start of this school year.
Students in grades 9-12 can enroll in the academy, which offers a curriculum focused on acting, dance, technical and musical theater and more. Academy students spend half of their days attending classes in core subjects such as English and math before spending the other half in courses such as visual arts, foreign language and instrumental music.
Beginning Oct. 14, the academy will get its first test when it presents its first-ever theatrical production with “Clue on Stage.” The show is a comedic take on the 1985 film “Clue,” which was based on the popular Hasbro board game.
The production will mark the directorial debut of PAA acting instructor Megan Burkart, who has also assisted longtime Parker director Jim Tropp on previous productions. Burkart will serve as the production’s artistic director, while Tropp will handle production director duties.
Burkart said it was important to kick things off at PAA with a timely piece familiar to theater fans.
“We wanted to make sure the first play in the Parker Arts Academy was something recognizable to the community,” Burkart said. “We picked ‘Clue’ because we figured it was a pretty popular movie. We also thought, since it would be in October, it would have a nice Halloween theme.”
A farce-meet-murder mystery show, “Clue on Stage” centers on six guests invited to a dinner party thrown at a remote mansion by an anonymous host. When the host turns up dead, all are considered suspects.
Of the 25 actors cast in the PAA production, 24 are enrolled students.
Four graduating seniors—Madison Leeder, Matthew Sell, Miranda Faist and Olivia Mauritz—will assume lead roles in “Clue on Stage.” All four say they have been passionate about theater from young ages.
Leeder, who has been acting since the seventh grade, said she is intrigued by her character Miss Scarlett because it is a different from others she has played.
“I’ve played Laurie in ‘Oklahoma’ and Sharon from ‘Guys and Dolls,’” she said. “Those roles give me similar energy and vibes. Scarlett is on the complete other end of the spectrum. I like how she’s very sarcastic but still funny. She’s just very blunt and tells it how it is.”
Sell’s first exposure to theater came at age 6 when he attended a performance of “The Sound of Music” at the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson. For “Clue,” he assumes the role of Professor Plum.
“I’m really enjoying him,” Sell said. “He’s suave and educated, but also ignorant and at times completely unaware of what’s going on. It’s a fun character to play.”
Faist leads the cast as Wadsworth, the “over-the-top” British butler who serves as the show’s lead antagonist.
“He’s sort of a catalyst for a lot of the action in the show, which is super cool,” Faist said. “He’s obviously a ‘he.’ It’s different from any work I’ve done. It’s really cool to have that experience, something so contrasting to everything I have experienced before.”
Mauritz jokes she wasn’t the sportiest kid growing up, so she turned to theater at age 5 after trying several other hobbies. She is excited to play Mrs. Peacock.
“I love her so much,” Mauritz said. “She’s hysterical, super full of herself. It’s something I love playing. I love playing crazy people.”
Burkart said the actors seem to be noticing how the pacing for “Clue” is different from many other productions, and she said it has been fun to watch them pick up on the nuances. She is particularly excited about the production because she believes it will be a fun experience for both the actors and the audience.
“I’m looking forward to “Clue” because it’s just so campy and full of bizarre jokes,” she said.
“I think the audience will find it to be pretty funny. What we’re going to try to do is not so much play the humor but just seriously present the material and then it will be funny because it’s real. These characters are really living in these absolutely absurd worlds.”
Though the actors number 25, the “Clue” cast actually includes about 40 students. For this production, the technical crew plays an important role during “blackout” scenes—where they will be running in and out to help set up between shots.
Because of this, most of the tech crew is listed in the cast as “Mysterious Movers.”
“They’re always moving the walls, and the walls are ever-changing to represent the rooms as opposed to having set rooms like a typical set,” Burkart said.
After “Clue on Stage,” the Parker Arts Academy plans to produce three more musicals during the 2021-22 season. These include Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” from Dec. 3-12; “The Sound of Music” from Feb. 11-20, and “Anastasia” from May 6-15.