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Major roles not limited to actors in Thomas Jefferson's spring musical

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson students Bryce Churilla and Alyssa Gephart rehearse a scene from school musical 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.' Sam Robbins | For The South Hills Record

There's more to a high school musical than the actors on stage singing or reciting each line correctly.

When students from Thomas Jefferson High School's theater department perform “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” this weekend, they will have help from many others offstage, making costumes, playing background melodies and ensuring each light turns on at the correct time.

The pit, technical crew and costume creators all play a major role in the show's success, students and directors alike said. Some of the students working offstage spend as many as 600 hours a year working on theater productions.

Costumes this year are made mostly by hand, purchased from a local thrift store or adapted from a previous year's guise, said Thomas Jefferson senior Caroline Smith, head student costume stylist for this year's show.

“They're really intense,” she said.

Ten people — students and alumni — work alongside Michele Stoicovy, Thomas Jefferson family and consumer science teacher and the show's costume designer, to put together the garb for the show.

They spend time watching the movie and reviewing the script and digging through two stock rooms full of old costumes before starting to craft their own pieces, Smith said.

“They're a lot more work than people think they are,” said Smith, noting that buying a full costume for a character is the last resort.

Set design this year was unique, in that all 12 pieces rotate and move from the stage. Typically, in Thomas Jefferson theater, there is one main piece in the center of the stage, students said.

“It's going to be crazy,” said Amanda Manko, 17, assistant student technical director.

The nearly 30 students involved in set design spend several months working with technical director Ronald Gmys creating each piece from scratch. They start with piles of wood from Home Depot and work nightly to build the multiple set pieces into homes, staircases and storefronts.

“It's a lot of just building and pushing stuff,” said Neil Donaldson, 18, a crew head with this year's show.

Many of those working to build the set are girls. The joke among them is that they likely know how to use a drill better than the football team.

Lauren Clark, 16, master electrician and light designer, spends between 300 and 400 hours during the musical figuring out the direction of each light, putting it in its place and making sure it is turned on at the right moment.

This year's music is harder to play than other years for members of the student, staff and alumni pit, they said.

“It's like hoedown the whole time,” said Alexis Dorko, 17, who plays the violin.

The orchestra, directed by James Mirabella, has been playing on its own for months. Aligning the music with the actors on stage is a challenge, the students said. But once it clicks, it becomes exhilarating.

“It's so much fun. We just feed off of each other,” said Rachel Reyher, 18, a saxophone player.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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