Seneca Valley needs community to help make theater arts program a 'Smash'

Courtney Little, center, and Anna Sullivan perform a scene together on the Seneca Valley Middle School stage that was made nearly a decade ago by volunteers and is beginning to show signs of wear.
Courtney Little, center, and Anna Sullivan perform a scene together on the Seneca Valley Middle School stage that was made nearly a decade ago by volunteers and is beginning to show signs of wear.
Photo by Submitted | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

If Seneca Valley's Middle School is to win money to rejuvenate its theater program, the community will help determine if it is to be, or not to be.

From now through April 9, friends of Seneca Valley can vote for the district in the “NBC's ‘Smash' Make a Musical constructed by Lowe's” contest.

The middle school's theater program is among 30 finalists considered for five grand-prize gift certificates out of 1,800 applicants. The five schools with the most mouse clicks will win.

“We have been moving in and out of the top 10 ranked schools out of the 30 semi-finalists,” said Andra Titus, eighth-grade theater arts teacher. “Most of the other schools in the contest actually have a stage and fixed audience seating, but what some people may not realize is that we really don't have a true stage. Our stage was constructed out of wood about 10 years ago and is really starting to show signs of use.”

A snow day helped start the process. As Titus scanned a local news website for delays and closings, she spotted the contest.

When she saw what it took to apply, she filled in the digital form.

“That night was the deadline,” she said. “We lucked into it.”

Having taught for eight years out of a large group instruction room with a center partition, she knew what her students needed: a more professional space for performing.

In her elective class, “We cover improvisation and pantomime,” she said.

“We do a scene study, hold mock auditions, act for the camera, write and record radio commercials, and for one of the semesters, we build the sets for the middle school musical.”

For the final performances, her students perform a series of comedy sketches that run about 45 minutes.

“Ninety percent of the time, the wall is up,” she said, as the other side of her classroom is used for another purpose. “It's discouraging.”

Because of renovations at the middle school building, there is no auditorium.

“But I'm thankful I have a space,” she said, even though there are no curtains, basic track lighting and a plywood platform stage that someone's grandparent built years ago.

“Renovations for the space will give the students the feel of a professional performance,” Titus, 34, of Churchill Borough, said.

That's the goal Timothy Allen McDonald, the founder and chairman of iTheatrics, had in mind when the competition began two years ago. iTheatrics, a New York City-based company, created the “Make A Musical” competition to build sustainable theater programs in under-served schools nationwide. Last year, two area winners were Westinghouse High School and Big Beaver Middle School. To date, the program has revived 101 musical theater programs nationwide.

McDonald first partnered with NBC around its show “Smash,” about making musicals. For the next season, Lowe's, a sponsor of “Smash,” came on board to focus on renovations.

“In some schools, theater space hasn't been properly maintained since the '60s or '70s,” he said, explaining that it's common for parents to pitch in and build whatever is needed for their children's theater arts programs. But with the refurbished spaces comes an even more important benefit.

“This is all about raising awareness of the needs of schools,” said McDonald. “This gets the schools, teachers and the communities motivated.”

One of the prizes is a Broadway Junior Show Kit that includes the rights to perform a musical provided by iTheatrics.

“This could be $5,000 for the rights to a show,” Titus said, one that her students could perform. “With better equipment and better supplies, the money could come back to us in another form.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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