High schoolers in Pine Island, Minn., and Hudson, Wis., already have a reason to root for the new NBC series "Rise." The schools are receiving $10,000 grants as part of NBC's campaign to champion drama departments across the country. Fifty high schools received money.
Kate Laack, director of the theater program at Pine Island High School, located between the Twin Cities and Rochester, will use the money to fund two productions next year instead of one — a bump that reflects a keen interest in the arts at the school, she said. For a recent production of one-act plays, 42 kids applied for 20 spots, a remarkable number for a student body of fewer than 400 teenagers.
Community support also is important, she said. Voters approved a bond issue in 2014 that, in part, allowed for building a 625-seat, state-of-the-art facility with a balcony and catwalk. Previously, productions were staged in the gym.
"The grant is helping us give kids an experience that rivals one they would have at a bigger high school or even some colleges," said Laack, who is in her fourth year as director. Tuesday night, she will join her students in watching the premiere of "Rise" at the NBC affiliate in Rochester.
Next year she plans to stage "The Giver," based on Lois Lowry's novel, and the musical "James and the Giant Peach." The heaviest cost of putting on a high school show is performance rights, Laack said, estimating the rate at $400 to $500 for plays, and $2,500 for musicals.
In "Rise," a new theater director faces skepticism when he decides to tackle "Spring Awakening." While Laack is excited about the series, staging an issue-oriented musical isn't on her agenda.
"There's definitely a section of our community that a show like 'Awakening' would speak to," she said, "but we wanted something that spoke to everyone, including elementary and middle-school students. That's how we ended up with 'James and the Giant Peach.' "