The first AHS student-written musical, “The Protagonist,” draws enthusiastic crowds

“The idea behind it is ‘What if your life turned into a musical?’” said senior Hannah Button-Harrison. “The main character is in a giant unnamed shopping center and wishes that her life was a musical. Suddenly, it is, but she is still the only one aware of it.” Button-Harrison is referring to Ames High’s spring play, The Protagonist. The musical was written and directed by Button-Harrison and senior Jacob Canfield. The situation is a first for Ames High’s drama department, which looked to be in trouble following the performance of the fall play, Inherit the Wind. Drama director Brian Parrish was fired and the future of the Spring Play was in limbo. However, Canfield and Button-Harrison had already been working on a play, and saw the opportunity present itself. “We have been working on this project for almost a year,” Canfield said. “For awhile, we thought we might just use it as a once-act. But soon there was too much material for that.” With the help of ELP coordinator Linda Telleen-Martens, the students were able to get credit for writing and performing a play each semester. For first semester, they wrote the Madrigal play. Around the turn of second semester, Canfield said they were sure they wanted The Protagonist to be the Spring Play. While the central administration was initially lukewarm to the idea, the drama department and student body needed the work to be performed. “We ran into some problems with timing, misunderstandings, and miscommunications, but it has worked out nicely in the end,” Canfield said. “The ELP department was extremely helpful throughout all of this–I think it is a perfect example of what ELP can do for you. Mrs. Skowronski was also extremely helpful. She would come to practice every day because she had to supervise, but it was so self-directed that she never got to take an active role. We really appreciate her dedication, though.” “Our main problem was time,” Button-Harrison said. “We got a period per day to work, which was good,but things still took time. The choreography especially came together rather late.” Another interesting part of the production process was learning the songs. Canfield and Button-Harrison taught all the songs on a call-and-response basis. There was no sheet music; they would sing the songs back and forth with the actors. This was partially for simplicity, but partially because of the nature of how they were written. “Generally, I came up with the lyrics and maybe the basic tune,” Canfield said. “I would pitch that to Hannah, and she would come up with a melody off of the lyrics. There really wasn’t much writing involved. The beautiful thing was that we could just tell the cast, ‘go home and learn the songs,’ and they did.” The Protagonist played April 25 and 26 in the Ames High auditorium to large, enthusiastic audiences. There was no admission fee, but donations were accepted, and many were happily given.