Heads Up! Lights Up!


William Liu and Alex Lee

Sarah Parmet ’25 stared at the curtains as she waited backstage, listening to audience members clapping at the previous performance. Her heart pounding, Parmet prepared to sing with her choir in the first of a series of concerts and showcases in the Lights Up Festival. Parmet said she was nervous because she did not have a lot of experience with the genre of music she was singing.

“The Chamber Singers’ set was all gospel music which I’d never sung before,” Parmet said. “It was a great challenge as I learned how to adapt to that style of singing. The song I enjoyed performing the most [had] complex harmonies which made it a lot of fun to sing.”

The Performing Arts Department hosted Lights Up, a festival featuring student productions in theater, dance and choral and instrumental music May 12-25. Some of the events in the festival included a choral concert, an instrumental concert, a jazz concert, a dance showcase and the Playwrights Festival. The festival also hosted video viewing parties for two past productions, “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” and “Urinetown.”

Upper School Performing Arts Teacher and Director Sabrina Washburn said the purpose of the festival was to give the Performing Arts Department a chance to come together and showcase performances of all musical and theatrical disciplines to the school community.

“The idea was to take the Playwrights Festival and build it out to be a full-out performing arts festival,” Washburn said. “We [wanted] to help elevate the presence of performing arts on campus [and] all the different programs we offer. You’ve got theater, dance, vocal music, instrumental music, each of them are in their own pockets. It can be difficult to feel the sense of community all under one department, but [Lights Up] was an idea to bring people together.”

Student director Natasha Clement ’24 said the festival provided a chance to attend performances from classmates she had not seen before.

“Being at the festival allowed me to go watch different groups perform, even those that I do not get to see on a regular basis,” Clement said. “I admit that I am a bit biased because I had a lot of friends that were in the performances themselves. Regardless, I was able to go to a lot of shows to support them. I had a lot of fun watching students perform, and I was able to see how much work went into each show.”

Clement said preparing for the festival was both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience.

“It was my first time directing a show alone, so I often felt anxious at rehearsals,” Clement said. “Two things helped with that, though. I found working with the advisors to be comforting, and I also overprepped for each of the rehearsals.”

Clara Berg ’25 said her role as Plato in the show “I Should Have Been A Playwright” allowed her to experiment with different emotions and personalities.

“It was difficult to [understand] an ancient Greek philosopher, but I was able to experiment with who Plato is to me, an anxious nerd who cares about Socrates,” Berg said. “I was also in a site-specific show called ‘Time’s Up.’ I acted out a voice in someone’s head, distracting her during a quiz. It was interesting to tune into more of a concept than a person and [struggle with] how to personify negativity and doubt. Being one of three voices was powerful, in particular, because we were all working together to overpower a student.”

Berg said though she experienced difficulties in preparing for her role in “Time’s Up,” she was able to overcome them with the help of her peers and teacher.

“It was a challenge for me to get the transitions in [the show] because there are multiple occasions in which the voices become an evil teacher,” Berg said. “Completely changing my character, both physically and emotionally, was a balancing act. Our director gave us tips, though, and I got it in the end.”

Berg said another challenge in putting the festival together was getting back into character after the shows were postponed.

“The festival was postponed twice and wound up running a month after when it was scheduled,” Berg said. “An obstacle was getting back into the feelings of the character after being on break and [given] the recent events on campus.”

Lights Up was rescheduled from April 20-23 to the current dates following the passing of Jonah Anschell ’23. Washburn said though rescheduling the festival was difficult, it was a good opportunity for students and teachers to gather and heal.

“[The festival was] supposed to open the day we learned about Jonah, but we ended up putting [it on] pause,” Washburn said. “It took a couple of weeks for us to understand how we were going to move forward, keeping in mind [how] different people deal with grief and loss. Figuring out how to approach something with over 100 people was tricky, but I think it has been a healing opportunity, just looking at the community that came together around the performances these last couple of nights.”

Washburn said the recent events required them to reconsider the content of the shows.

“We had one [show] in the festival that was scheduled, but once we found out about Jordan, we pulled it out because it felt like the content wasn’t going to be appropriate at that time,” Washburn said. “The playwright had another [show] she [had] worked on over the previous summer, so we were able to workshop that in its place.”

Upper School Performing Arts Teacher Zanaida Robles said it was unfortunate the festival was rescheduled because the new schedule put the choral concert before the other shows, creating a disconnect.

“I was proud of the choir concert, but our performance felt isolated from the rest of the department,” Robles said. “I speculate that choir groups would feel more connected to their peers in other performing arts disciplines had the festival happened as planned.”

Parmet said though her group was not given much time to prepare, the students adapted and delivered a good performance.

“I felt a little nervous because we started preparing for our concert after spring break,” Parmet said. “Before that, we were focused on rehearsing for our Carnegie Hall performance. It was a little chaotic, and a lot of us practiced outside of class to get our pieces memorized, [but] it all came together in the end.”

Sophia Choi ’25 said despite the commitment that preparing for the festival required, she found it to be a rewarding experience.

“Lights Up [was] a fun experience,” Choi said. “Even though it took up a lot of time, I enjoyed being a part of the choir, improv and Playwrights Festival. I learned to work together with others and improvise to make things work.”

Clement said she appreciated seeing the work that she put in come to light.

“I loved seeing everything come together and watching the cast members become closer,” Clement said. “The best part was watching the show from backstage as it opened to audience members.”

Clement said though she misses collaborating with her peers now that the festival has come to a close, she is proud of the performance that she put on.

“The end of a show is always bittersweet,” Clement said. “I miss being around the cast members before and after rehearsals, but I am also super proud of the work that the students put in and so glad that we were able to perform our piece for audience members.”

Washburn said she is interested in hosting similar events to highlight students’ performances in the future.

“These students are so dedicated and talented that we want to show them off and give them a chance to be seen,” Washburn said. “It might look different, [but] it will continue no matter what.

Washburn said the department is looking to make changes to the festival to lessen the burden on multi-disciplined students in the future.

“I think we learned a lot,” Washburn said. “We don’t know what [the festival] will look like in the future, and I think there are some things we would do differently. It’s been a lot for students involved in multiple different art forms, and the strain on their time was something we discovered and want to change in the future.”