Highland Mills - “The Secret Garden,” Souza Scholarship’s third summer musical in as many years, opened last night at Palaia Vineyard’s beautiful open-air stage in Highland Mills. Souza’s 30th anniversary production features a talented cast and crew of mostly young people, who have worked long and hard for these four performances, the last three of which will be presented Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, starting at 8 p.m. Among the actors, singers, and musicians who have spent so much of their summer vacation on this show are a number of Souza scholarship winners - “paying it forward.” Several scholars share their thoughts on this show, and the scholarship itself, as well as one player (Meghan Zwart) from Cornwall, who is new to the Souza summer experience: Stephen Gorgone (orchestra recruiter, piano) “This is my second time recruiting for and performing in a summer production for Souza, and I have learned a lot about what it takes to organize a musical in just under a month. The people with whom we are working, mainly Michele George and Steven Wing, are fantastic musically - there would be no show without them. Mr. Wing’s ability to teach a score to entire cast of high school and college students is inspiring, and Ms. George’s experience as a singer, pit member and conductor enables us as players to adapt easily to what is happening on stage. Souza has supported me on numerous occasions throughout my entire musical career, and I am delighted to be able to give back,’ to the scholarship and to future recipients who can continue to thrive under the efforts of Souza.” Amelia Wilson (orchestra, viola) “This has also been my second time participating in the Souza summer show. I am thankful for receiving the Souza scholarship for doing something that I love. I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community because they have helped me excel musically. Supporting Souza does not only help students financially but helps us to grow as people and musicians. Working with Ms. George has been a great experience, and I am glad I have been able to work with another great conductor from Monroe-Woodbury before I leave for college later this summer. I hope that the scholarship committee is able to continue awarding the scholarships and giving others the opportunities I have had within my two Souza productions.” Shaun Cagney (orchestra, trombone) “The ability to work on a Souza show (my second) has been extremely rewarding. I’ve gotten a lot of pit orchestra experience, and it feels good to be a part of a group of great musicians that have restored’ the Souza scholarship, although we play only one small part. The teachers involved with the show, and the music teachers of the M-W school district, are responsible for making us, the musicians, as talented as we are. Having the ability to work with Mr. Wing and Ms. George for a second time is great. They’re both extremely talented and dedicated musicians and teachers, and they do a fantastic job of making those both on and behind the stage sound really great and bring it all together.” Sarah Fields (stage manager, cast “Alice”) “As stage manager, my preparations for this show have been odd, juggling my work as staff and as actor. When a player had to drop from the show, I auditioned to take the part, and am now both cast and crew. So right now, my character is someone who is secretly worrying about every other aspect of the show. But as a visual and video artist, my performance skills also come in handy when creating a new piece, and in all honesty, I wouldn’t be in the career I am now if I had not accidentally stumbled into Ms. Burt’s auditions when I was in seventh grade. What brings me back, year after year, to these shows is the professionalism, along with a dose of fun and friends. And as a Souza winner, it’s nice knowing I’m giving back and helping others that have been in my position - I only wish I could apply again! Graduate school is expensive too!” Meghan Zwart (cast, “Lily”) “I have seen the past two Souza productions, and when I heard that this year’s show was going to be The Secret Garden,’ I decided this was the year to audition. This summer I am involved with three theater groupsSouza, and as director at both the Bethlehem Summer Music Festival and the Cornwall Recreation Department Theater Camp. Community theater is all about the experience, about creating an atmosphere and sweeping the audience up in that atmosphere, of escaping from reality - I would love to be involved for the rest of my life. And I have absolutely loved being a part of this wonderful group. They all love what they are doing and never lose sight of the fact that community theater should be fun, for the cast and for the audience. For me, the character of Lily all lies in the lyrics. I try to study and analyze the lyrics and musical setting of each line and find any hidden meaning. Performing is a creative spaceone that allows you to create your own world, your own character, and often leads you closer to finding yourself.”
If you go Souza’s “The Secret Garden” is scheduled for three more performances at Palaia Vineyard’s outdoor stage on Route 32 in Highland Mills: Friday, Aug. 6; Saturday, Aug.7; and Sunday, Aug. 8, at 8 p.m. each evening, although earlier arrival at the vineyard is encouraged. Tickets are $10 for adults, children, and seniors. For information about Souza’s “The Secret Garden” performances and tickets, call 845-782-0453.