SPRINGFIELD -- As the audience took their seats, the cast of Springfield High’s production of “Cinderella” gathered behind the curtains.
Dressed in their handmade costumes for the last show, they linked arms and formed a large circle on stage, swaying from side to side as they told each other what being in theatre has meant to them.
One by one, 30 students each got a chance to speak, talking about the good times, the not-so-good times, the bad times and the downright hard times they experienced together in the department, which one student described simply as “my home.”
For nine seniors, this would mark their final time taking part in a tradition set forth by theatre director Joe Simmons. Some kept their comments short and sweet, others elaborated, one student choked up, and another had everyone rolling in laughter.
Once the last student spoke, senior Cameron Bonura went to the middle of the circle and led the group in a lively chant that forced people on the other side of the curtains to cover their ears.
After that, it was showtime.
And once again, it did not disappoint.
Springfield High students wrapped up another successful spring production with its traditional dinner theatre program, concluding a 16-show run that brought the classic tale of “Cinderella” to life April 1-6.
In her first major role, sophomore Skylar Kobitz led a cast that featured Noah Bonura as the Prince, Cameron Bonura as the Jester, Elli Rushing as the Fairy Godmother, Sadie White as the evil Stepmother, and Shana Abels and Brielle Lee as the two evil Stepsisters.
The play followed the storyline of Disney’s 2015 live action adaptation, which tells of an orphaned girl forced to work for her evil stepmother and stepsisters before her fortunes change with the appearance of her Fairy Godmother.
The cast performed under student-director Mason Sibley, a junior who has been in the theatre department longer than anyone. For years, Sibley has designed and led the creation of the elaborate sets while also playing major roles. This year, he took a seat in the director’s chair, first for the traveling play last fall before “Cinderella” this semester.
Sibley’s first role came as a hyena in “The Lion King” while still in elementary school, and since then he’s been as much a part of the department as Simmons.
The reason for that — like so many others in the department — is simple: Theatre is where his friends are.
“It gave me my best friends, and that’s something I owe to theater,” Sibley said.
Noah Bonura remembers seeing Sibley dressed as a hyena during that production years ago. It was the moment he realized he wanted to join, for both the fun it looked like everyone had both on and off stage.
“I just remember seeing Mufasa jump up and hold onto Pride Rock before Scar hit him down,” he vividly recalled. “At that moment, I was like, ‘I want in.’ As soon as I got to high school, I knew I was joining theatre.”
“It makes everything this whole year — the hard work, the sweat, the stress going over all this — it makes it all worth it.”
As much as it is a social gathering for the students, they take their craft seriously. They begin practicing for the play at the start of the spring semester, culminating in an intense, overnight rehearsal the weekend before opening night.
Though those rehearsals are mostly work, there’s a whole lot of play.
“There’s usually a big dip in the middle where we don’t get anything done and people are just making bird noises,” joked senior Lane Degenhardt. “Last year around 1 a.m., we were getting the lights in position, and then we all got candy, and we had this insane sugar rush and we just started dancing.”
The students performed three shows a day April 1-5, drawing audiences from more than a dozen schools, Simmons said. The production has built a reputation of its own since Simmons took over, something that isn’t lost on the cast.
As a state FFA officer, Degenhardt said he’s seen about 15 plays this year during visits to various schools. In his opinion, the quality of a Springfield High production compared to others isn’t close.
“There are none that stand up to the quality that we push for ourselves,” he said. “Looking back on my first show Peter Pan, I remember the swords and props were so small… but it’s just become so much bigger and better every year and the whole community looks forward to it.”
All the work concludes with the annual dinner theatre program, which was once again a sold-out show this year. With makeup on and dressed in their “Cinderella” garments, students passed out a plates of jambalaya, meat loaf, green beans, and bread before handing out a variety of desserts.
This came after the traditional gathering on stage, when students shared some final laughs — and tears — before wrapping up the production they poured countless hours into.
“That’s tell you something about our program — despite all the work and all the stress, people still do it and they love it,” Sibley said. “We always tell each other that we wouldn’t have met each other without this program, but now we can’t imagine our lives without each other.”