Katherine Riley on Directing Musicals at Bay

Katherine Riley at RehearsalWhat’s it like to have been involved in every Bay musical? “Well, it’s been a very Bay School experience,” laughs Katherine Riley, drama and humanities faculty and director of Bay’s musicals.  “I’ve learned a lot…When I started, I wasn’t flying blind, because I had directed musicals before, but not here, not in a small school.”

Though Bay has been producing plays since 2004, the school’s annual musical is still relatively new. As Katherine remembers, “In 2009, the first real musical we did was ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ The year prior, we had a Mary Zimmerman play that had singing in it, but it didn’t come with music. So, a 9th-grader composed and played his own original music, and he taught the kids how to sing it.” As with many Bay undertakings, students and faculty worked as a team to make it happen – and to improve upon it the next year. With Katherine at the helm, students came together early the next year to kick off the school’s first musical. “It was a little scary to set out and ask, ‘Are there enough of us to do this?’ But we pulled it off.”

The key word for a Bay musical? We. Students oversee all aspects of the production, leading both on stage and behind the scenes. “[Retired Bay math teacher] Jean Menapace, who has done costumes with us for seven years now, was just saying that she learned pretty quickly to ask the student stage manager about any questions she has. Because they know the answers!”

And, for a show as complex as a musical, there are certainly a lot of answers to keep track of. “To sew all of the moving parts together takes so much forethought. A sound cue, a lighting cue, the band, the microphones…it can seem overwhelming sometimes, but we always make it work well in the end. I don’t think there’s anything like that feeling.”

Now an annual winter fixture at Bay, this year’s musical, “Once Upon a Mattress,” features the talents of over 15% of the school population. Students have tackled a variety of roles, from acting on stage to managing the tech booth to playing in the pit band. Katherine says, “As the director, my focus is on the acting and on bringing the many parts together, but the kids get to do the real work….In that way, it’s very Bay. By the time you get to the week of the show, it’s not really ‘my’ show anymore – and it was never really intended to be. It’s the kids’…By the end of each play, the kids have learned a lot, and that’s really the most powerful thing.”

Join us for a performance of “Once Upon a Mattress,” which runs from Feb. 5-8 at Fort Mason’s Southside Theater. View show times and buy tickets online here.

2 thoughts on “Katherine Riley on Directing Musicals at Bay

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    1. And don’t forget – we still have two other productions each year! One fall play, and one spring play, which alternates between faculty- and student-directed productions.

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