Braves bow out with production of 'Fiddler'

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PITTSFIELD — For its last musical in its existing school auditorium, the Taconic High School Theatre Department is preparing to bow out with the production of a classic, "Fiddler on the Roof."

"I'm glad it's this one," said senior Emma Foley of Director Jessica Passetto's choice of show. "It's fitting. For us, the future is known but also unknown."

By that, Foley means that the students know their music and theater program will have a home, in the new Taconic building that's currently being constructed adjacent to the existing one. The new theater will include more fly space for stage rigging, backstage space and an indoor crossover space, among other long-sought-after features. But what will take place in that space, and how it will be used and embraced is a chapter in the school's nearly 50-year history that has yet to be written.

For the current theater and music students, the existing auditorium is a creative sanctuary and second home.

Passetto said it took a while for a theater program to come into its own at the school, which has long-served as the home of the city's vocational programs, from culinary arts to machine technology. She's in the process of putting together a timeline, but she believes the school's first musical was "The Pajama Game," staged in 1970.

Over the past several decades, the program's membership has waxed and waned. But under Passetto's direction, the program has flourished. She said the first musical she directed had "maybe 20-30 kids." Now, she said, "we have 65 students involved in this year's show."

Her shows have historically placed Taconic faculty and staff in cameo roles, and this spring's production upholds that tradition. For English teacher Noella Lallatin, this is her third production.

"Some of the kids I know, some of the kids I teach, some I don't teach, but here I get to see them all in a different light," said Lallatin.

What her student may not know, but what some have come to learn, is that Lallatin has a shared passion for music and theater, something she studied in college.

What's new this year, is that this cast will also feature Taconic Theatre alumni to round out the Russian village of Anatevka.

The Taconic technical crew has transformed the downstage into a mountain road, crafting a custom ramp leading up to the town. This, at the end of the show, will play a critical role of its own — an effect that will have to be seen for itself.

On Monday morning, despite being the start of a school vacation week, more than half the cast member filed onto the stage for a 9 a.m. rehearsal call. Later in the morning, they spent an hour working with veteran theater educator and director, Thomas Towne, their guest dialect coach for the day. As they edited their syllables and played with Russian and Yiddish intonation, the cast members laughed with, listened to and applauded one another in their efforts.

"You grow with each other here," said senior Tyler Williamson. "It's a big family that's not really judgemental."

Like the musical they're rehearsing, the Taconic Theatre program is rooted in a tradition of excellence that involves drama and comedy, dedication and determination, conscious decision-making and creative improvisation.

"It's as close to Broadway as you can get here in Pittsfield. There's a lot of amazing energy here," said senior Joseph Nichols, who plays the leading role of Tevye.

This program also has a tradition in community performance and service, which Passetto has emphasized over the years, as a means for students to take pride in their city and their neighbors.

""Fiddler" is about tradition," the director said. "It's about keeping things the same, and at the same time, changing. I think that's true of our building and true of our world right now."

And while seniors Tyler Williamson and Emma Foley won't continue on with the new building and theater, they say they wish future Taconic Theatre members the same sense that they have, of coming from dynamic ongoing arts legacy at the school.

"They'll have a new space, and I hope they take advantage of that, but I also hope they continue loving each other and accepting each other as we have," Foley said.

"This has always been an inviting place and I hope it continues to be a home away from home and a space to escape," said Williamson. "I hope with the new school the next kids take this positivity and light with them and transfer it over there."


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