Living out their passion for performing

Four Coalers, Director part of All-State Production

Courtesy photo
COAL CITY HIGH School students [from left] Kayla Connelly, Mason Natyshok, Stephen Byers and Derek Carlson were selected to participate in the Illinois High School Theatre Festival’s All-State Production of Shrek, The Musical. The All-State Production was held Jan. 12-14 during the annual theatre festival held at the University of Illinois. Unit 1 Superintendent Chris Spencer and theatre director Jack Micetich joined the students following the final show on Saturday. Micetich served as the costume designer for the All-State Production.

Ann Gill

The question is posed in the theme of the 2023 Illinois High School Theatre Festival, “Are You Living or Just Existing?”

For Coal City High School students—Derek Carlson, Kayla Connelly, Stephen Byers and Mason Natyshok—the answer comes in living out their passion for performing as members of the All-State Production, a performance of Shrek, The Musical.

As Carlson notes, it’s a program that brings together the state’s best student actors and musicians, a place for those with a common passion for the performing arts.

The local students were among nearly 130 high school students selected from across the state to participate in the production, 68 of them appearing on stage, 40-plus working behind the scenes and 19 creating the instrumental sound as members of the pit orchestra.

Connelly, a senior, played saxophone in the orchestra. It was an experience she will never forget.

As someone who is on stage in her school’s musicals, performing with a pit orchestra is something that had always interested her. Inspired by classmate Collin Dames, a member of the 2021 All-State orchestra, Connelly audition and landed a spot. Connelly said she would highly recommend the experience to any musician.

The only downfall of being in the pit, is that Connelly and her fellow musicians were unable to see any of the performance.

What most in the audience were unaware of is the orchestra was tucked away in a room under the stage at the Krannet Center for the Performing Arts where the show was presented last weekend. The production is the highlight of the annual festival that brings together drama students from across Illinois. The three-day event features workshops, student produced shows and provides college bound juniors and seniors to audition for various college theatre programs.

Coal City had 11 students take part in the festival and they were there to cheer on their peers when they took the stage for the opening performance on Thursday.

The audience reaction to the performances is one of the things Carlson finds most rewarding about the experience. Byers agrees and adds it’s the interactions with audience members after the shows he enjoys the most.

All four agree the best moment in the show features the dragon and a donkey.

Individually, Natyshok welcomed the crowd reaction when his character wearing an oversized head runs into a wall and falls down after greeting Shrek and Donkey on their arrival to the town of Duloc.

For Carlson it was his opening number directing the fairytale creatures to their assigned spots in the bog in his role as Captain of the Guard, and as for Byers it was serving as a tap captain and creating and performing a featured solo as a tap dancing rat.

The All-State experience for the students is unique in that it comes together over the course of five rehersals—each three day weekend from August to December. The entire production coming together for the three days leading up to the opening performance.

All four students said the process takes discipline and dedication, and they learned a lot about themselves.

“You have to be accountable for yourself,” Connelly said.

“You have to be patient,” Byers added. And, “you can only control yourself,” Carlson chimed in.

Joining the students in the All-State Production was Coal City Theatre Department director Jack Micetich, who served as the production’s costume designer.

This was his first time as a member of the production staff and his efforts resulted in hundreds of custom costume pieces created by a team of local seamstresses and a staff of four student costumers working alongside him.

The pieces created admired by audience members who commented on the colors, details and exemplary craftsmanship and vision that went into each individual item.

In addition to the costumes, each of the custom wigs used in the production were created by Chad White, the Coal City Theatre Department's wig designer.

For all involved, the All-State experience provided an opportunity to learn something new, meet new people and make connections.
“We became a family,” Natyshok said.

Having this experience with his students was a special one for Micetich who shared how proud he is of each one of them for their handwork and dedication, and for serving as role models not only for their peers at home, but those they worked with through the All-State Production.

Everyone involved agreed it’s an experience they would recommend to anyone who enjoys performing.

“You have to be willing to work hard, you have to be willing to put in 100% and you have to love it and be dedicated to the process,” Natyshok said.
After all, it’s the state tournament for state performers and pit musicians.