“Theater is an empathy machine,” says Ms. Cuellar, and the cast and crew of KIS’s recent production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast could not agree more. It was a successful show in every way possible, definitely leaving a tangible mark in the history of KIS theater, but it now stands to represent something much larger than that— a visualization of what it means to connect, work together, and create beauty with fellow human beings.
Beauty and the Beast made new strides and broke records that will certainly be difficult to top in the future. Tickets were sold out for the first time in KIS theater history, with additional chairs being brought in for the Friday night performance to accommodate a more-than-full house of 446 people. 1046 tickets were sold in total, the highest number for any KIS show to date, multiple people buying repeated tickets to watch the show a second time. And, of course, each performance ended in a booming standing ovation— not yet a common sight in KIS theater. Sydney Langford, the choreographer who worked with the cast and crew from the very beginning of the rehearsal process in January, said that “I’ve worked with this department before for The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan, but the Beauty and the Beast production was next level since the first rehearsal… In my honest opinion, [they] have truly outdone every high school production in the world.”
And most of the magic did not happen onstage. It happened on the paint-stained aprons of the art students that decorated the set, in every hinge and nail the stagecraft students drilled into the sophisticated rotating stages, and in each poster and decoration put up by the front of house crew. It happened in the hidden darkness of the pit orchestra and the hushed quiet of the light booth, where the aural and visual components came together in extraordinary chemistry. It happened in the velvet folds of the curtains the run crew closed swiftly after each entrance and exit. Without the strikingly realistic food items made by the props crew, Be Our Guest would not have been the captivating number it was, and without the iconic blue dress or the shimmering golden makeup, characters like Belle and Lumiere would not have come alive onstage in the same way.
Such unbelievable hard work and cooperation showed its fruition in the audience that soon became a part of the magic. Even non-KIS students and adults came to watch the show. Blueprint collected 8 reviews from the audience. All of them rated the show 5 stars out of 5, and most named Be Our Guest as their favorite song from the show. One audience member said they were impressed not only by the lead actors, but rather the “whole cast because I could see for myself that there was not a single role that was not important”. Another audience member even described it as: “it was like Broadway came to KIS and had affordable billing for twice the excitement”.
“ The stage, the acting, and the witty lines really brought this production to life. Even the costumes felt like they legitimately came from the Disney movie. I barely even realized that three hours had passed. My only regret is coming to watch it only once on Saturday night, when there were three other showings.” —Jaehong Park (9)
“I’ve watched every single show from the theatre department and I am confident that Beauty and the Beast was the best one so far. I can’t believe that this was a high school production. I would watch it again and again and I would be amazed every time.” —Alice Yoo (12)
But while the audience members only came across the final product, every member of the cast and crew know that the process was what was truly valuable, having each felt to the core how powerful theater is. Studies have shown that involvement in drama activities increases students’ self-esteem, reading comprehension, and academic confidence. But beyond such benefits, there is something genuinely out of the ordinary about the KIS theater community. Each member is welcomed into a family, where everyone is accepted for who they are. For many students who join, theater is the first space they ever feel so comfortable in their own skin.
This is why the bonds forged in theater often transcend beyond high school. The upperclassmen—underclassmen barrier that invariably exists in every other class and club in Korea suddenly dissipates. Beauty and the Beast was a true exemplar of this; combining middle and high schoolers together in the cast and crew caused no rifts or divides, as one would expect. In fact, during rehearsals, 11th- and 12th- graders enjoyed bantering with 6th- and 7th- graders as much as they enjoyed the company of peers their age. Anyone present during rehearsals would have testified to the incredibly supportive environment, where everyone was striving to build each other up and create a collectively positive experience for all. It would be safe to say that there is the least amount of negative “drama” to be witnessed in the drama department.
So it is no surprise that the entire cast and crew broke into frenzied tears following the last curtain call on Saturday night. It marked the end of a journey— costumes to be taken off for the last time, the set to be walked for the last time, the curtain to fall for the last time. Dozens of people continued to sob for hours straight, embracing everyone they came across. As heartbreaking as it was, the scene almost had a certain humor to it: students would begin to calm down, only to come across yet another face they had shared this experience with and break into tears all over again.
But the end of this show really is no heartbreak. It is a memory now, to be smiled upon and cherished. It has forged a little birdhouse of love in each student’s heart, where theater will forever have a place to live. The production has come to an end, but it has given something indispensable to each individual that partook in its magic, to be carried forth into dozens of lives. The power of art truly is a tale as old as time. On the hardwood floor of the stage, where the odds and ends of the high school social scene come together to expand each other’s creativity, where the very definition of humanity is amplified, a certain James Barrie quote seems more relevant than ever—”those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)
Picture credits to Sara Kim