Graduating Performers and the GSB Stage

Among the cast of this spring's musical The Boy Friend were four seniors, all of whom have been core members of the GSB Players during their time in Upper School: Billy Conlan, Neil Ianniello, Caty Mathews and Mycroft Zimmerman. Each has contributed to several shows—with Matthews and Zimmerman tracing their origins on the Gill stage back to the early childhood production of The Nutcracker. Having taken their final bows as GSB Players, these veteran performers took a few minutes to share memories of their favorite roles, offer life lessons from the theater and reflect on the camaraderie, hard work and energy that makes for a great show.
 
In terms of favorite productions, Matthews and Zimmerman both cited Godspell, staged during the spring of their sophomore year, because of the way the show brought the cast together. "Godspell stands out as my favorite show because of the community we built—the community essential to making that particular show a success," Zimmerman says. "That production brought me one of the closest groups of friends I have ever had." Because Godspell was an ensemble show, it needed to be a group effort from the onset. Understanding this, the students organized rehearsals outside of school during vacation. Zimmerman says, "The whole cast would go to someone's house to run through the show. That is such a great memory." Echoing Zimmerman's sentiments, Matthews adds, "We had such a great time working together, and we came back from winter vacation so much better—so much more cohesive—than we had been before."
 
When talking about memorable individual roles or productions, the actors focused on those that helped them grow as performers. Conlan, for example, singled out the role of Prince Dauntless in Once Upon a Mattress, calling it "incredibly fun," even as he recounted the hours and hours of work he put into crafting a song with Xauen Zirpolo '15. "I had this big number, 'Man to Man,' with Xauen, in which he is pantomiming and I am trying to speak the lyrics in sync with him," Conlan says. "That number was our pride and joy. The audience could not have guessed how hard we worked to get the timing right. During one rehearsal, I was on the stage for an hour and a half with that song. Afterward, I didn't even have the energy to talk; I just needed to retreat. But when Xaeun and I finally got it, finally beat that number, we were just flying."
 
For Matthews, who loves accents, the past year provided her with two enviable roles: Christina Grant in Murder on the Nile, a role for which she was convincingly English, and the French headmistress Madame Dubonnet in The Boy Friend, which she notes was "very definitely" her favorite. But she credits landing those roles with a learning experience from Godspell. "During a rehearsal, Mr. Canada stopped the scene to ask me if I was having fun," she says. "The question surprised me because I was having such a great experience, but he explained that what I was feeling wasn't showing on my face. So I practiced; I practiced in front of the mirror, in front of my reflection in the microwave—any chance I could— until I knew that I was communicating emotion through my face. After that, when a scene called for me to be sad or joyful or angry, I thought 'Oh, I can do that.'" That confidence really came through in Dubonnet, a leading role, in which Matthews felt particularly comfortable: "Being the oldest girl in the theater absolutely helped me play the headmistress in the show; I had so much fun with that role" She adds as an aside, "And my costume in the third act was my favorite thing ever."
 
The role of Truffaldino from The Servant of Two Masters stands out for Zimmerman because he "learned the most from that production." He explains, "I was a sophomore, and Truffaldino represented a larger role for me. At the same time that I was memorizing more lines, I was grappling with how to communicate meaning through the 18th Century language in the play." After lots of hard work, Zimmerman realized "With older language, you can't just memorize it outright and learn the meaning as you rehearse; you have to know what you are saying and memorize not just the words but the sentiment of what you are saying." He went on to have key roles in subsequent GSB productions and also tackled Shakespearean English as Pericles in a production of Pericles Prince of Tyre staged by the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey.
 
For Ianniello, who counts his recent roles of Bobby in The Boy Friend and Sir Harry in Once Upon a Mattress, as favorites, theater at GSB has given him a chance to show another side of himself. "In the role of Bobby," he says, "I connected really well with Kelly Schiesswohl '17, who was my counterpart in the show. She and I spent a long time working on 'Won't You Charleston with Me,' which was one of my favorite numbers." People don’t really guess that there is this theater side of me; they tend to assume sports. With a show like The Boy Friend, the audience sees that I can sing and dance, and that's really cool."
 
In college next fall, Conlan and Zimmerman will continue with the performing arts, while Ianiellio and Matthews remain open to the possibility but less sure about the specifics. While the four are looking ahead, they are also savoring the last few weeks as GSB seniors. After so many productions together, they are relaxed, open and supportive with one another. It is something they will miss. Reflecting on the particular camaraderie of the theater, Ianiellio shares, "I can't really explain it, but the community that is built through theater is like a family. Theater at GSB has given me the opportunity to create friendships with some people I might never have known otherwise—like the three seniors that are here with me now. It's something I am very thankful for." Perhaps Matthews captures the mood best when she offers, "I haven't really thought about whether or not I will do theater in college, but after the experience of staging The Boy Friend, I don't want to let any of it go."
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Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.