The O’Fallon Progress
With a week to go, scenic and costume designer Terry Pattison was behind the stage in her home away from home, the scene shop where the magic happens. She was putting finishing touches on a large gargoyle, huge church bells and a gigantic cathedral window.
O’Fallon Township High School’s cast and crew of the spring musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was entering what is known as “Hell Week” — the tech and dress rehearsals before the show is performed.
The musical will be presented for three evening performances, March 28-30, at 7 p.m. at the OTHS Milburn School Auditorium.
The ambitious musical is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel and the 1996 Disney animated film, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. It has been available as a stage musical for the last few years.
What makes a monster and what makes a man? This is the central theme, telling the story of Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer of Notre Dame, and his desire to one day be a part of the outside world. When he summons the courage to attend the Feast of Fools, he meets Esmeralda, a compassionate gypsy who protects him from an angry mob. But at the same time, Quasimodo’s master, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, and the new captain of the guard, Phoebus de Martin, fall in love with the beautiful girl.
Adding to Quasimodo’s struggle is his punishment and derision from Frollo, following years of psychological abuse, and the danger posed by the gypsies, who are willing to kill any outsiders who venture into their secret hideout. But before Paris is burned to the ground, will Quasimodo be able to save Esmeralda? Who is the true monster of Notre Dame?
Show ‘massive undertaking’
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is a massive undertaking. Forty-six students are part of the cast while another 26 are on crew between front of house, set workers and runners.
The after-school rehearsal was abuzz with activity as first-year director Erick Price attended to last-minute details, assistant director Eve Knipp adjusted costumes and some students donned parts of their handmade outfits — not everything was finished. After all, there was a week to go.
Pattison, a veteran theater technician, was nonplussed. She knows all about deadlines and challenges.
“I have done way too many productions to count, both costuming and set with schools and community theater. This by far was the most challenging,” she said.
Praised for her creativity and work ethic, Pattison and her right-hand man, Greg Churchill, were hoping to finish the stained glass centerpiece, the “Wow” factor to the set.
“The window is made out of wood and cut PVC pipe and window film,” Pattison said.
“Her imagination is incredible,” Churchill said.
“The most challenging part was the time constraints to get a unit set of this magnitude created,” Pattison said. “The school would not let us take possession of the space until the beginning of March. The church interior facade started to go up March 5. The set crew students at OTHS worked their butts off this year and I do not think they ever want to sweep up foam again,” Pattison said.
She also costumed the entire show.
“The two costume students at OTHS, Brianna Harris and Dre Croissant, split about 40 robes, helped me fit everyone and are responsible for over 150 costumes for the show run,” Pattison said.
Pattison is driven by artistic challenges.
“I look for shows that challenge me artistically to see if I can do it, so I was glad when Erick proposed Hunchback,” Pattison said. “It has been in my ‘to do’ list for a while but no one really would touch it — now I know why! Most difficult thing was trying to present the vastness of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Bells and Towers and the famous Rose Window, which I could not have pulled off without our Greg!
“Greg and I have tackled many a production together. He is the male version of myself and when we get working together the creativity flies,” she said.
“My daughter, Halli Pattison (also the choreographer), spent her spring break helping me build and paint. She is one of my strongest supporters and I could not do any production without her, she is my inspiration and the reason I got into theater. The gargoyles were just plain fun to create,” she said.
The team is a good one, she said. The kids had learned a lot from former teacher Chrissy Nordine.
“She left to pursue a doctorate in directing — we were sad to see her go. She was a collaborative director who really taught the kids,” Pattison said.
Price is in his first year at OTHS and is the choral teacher and director.
He has been teaching high school for seven years, including as Director of Choirs at both Clayton High School and Pacific High School in Missouri and Thornton Fractional South High School in the South Chicago Suburbs.
At OTHS, he is in charge of four curricular choral ensembles, two vocal jazz ensembles, and serves as the artistic director for the annual Madrigal dinner and spring musical. He is also the director of the school’s competitive show choir program.
Price could not be reached for comment. Pattison commented about how good the cast is.
“The talent of the kids in this production is humbling as well. I am in awe of their gifts,” she said.
English plays role of Quasimodo
Bennett English, a senior who has appeared in past years as “Shrek” in the 2018 musical and Edward Bloom in “Big Fish,” said playing Quasimodo has been the most challenging to date.
“I can’t believe I’m so blessed to be ending my eight shows at O’Fallon with this great piece of art. I hope I get to share this message with as many people as I can,” he said. “I’m in love with this show.”
The musical deals with dark subjects — physical deformity, abuse and religious extremism.
“You dive into many deep situations that you see reprised today. You’re dealing with many hard topics that occur even in today’s society. I love the light that theater can spread on a situation,” he said.
“Quasimodo is pure joy. He is a man who always stays true to himself. Although he’s not aesthetically beautiful, he is happiness. And I love trying my hardest to bring that to stage. That’s a challenge in itself, but the physicality of Quasimodo is rough,” English said. “It is so hard to hold the hunch and the face and the voice all while acting and singing.”
Pattison said she liked the story and how it applies to society today.
“When Quasi says ‘What makes a monster and what makes a man,’ it really makes you think,” she said.
“It has been almost 200 years since Victor Hugo wrote this story … have we really learned?” she said.