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HTMS Theatre Program Stages Record-Breaking Shows


May 10, 2022
Jason Gaston

HTMS - Jennifer Bruno has been directing theatre for more than two decades.  She typically has a basic idea of the shows she wants to produce several years in advance.  However, for this Hewitt-Trussville Middle School teacher, COVID redirected all of that. 

“COVID, of course, changed everything.  Not only did it affect the plans I had for shows, but it also unexpectedly affected the number of students signing up for fine arts classes,” Bruno said.  “I decided to abandon my original plans, and try to renew interest in theatre by doing a show that kids had been requesting for years.”

Renewing interest in theatre involved bringing about a show that was not originally on Bruno’s radar: Disney’s High School Musical, Jr.  It’s an energetic musical that has stood the test of time; a piece very familiar to students.  It centers around the romance of two popular high schoolers  - students who must deal with issues of friends, family, and relationships while staying on track at school.  For Bruno and her theatre students, High School Musical, Jr. hit just the right note with HTMS students. 

“It worked, as we cast our largest show [99 students] since I've been at the middle school,” Bruno said. 

Working with her colleague and HTMS Choral Director Dr. Ben Cook, music rehearsals began in December 2021 with full-scale rehearsals starting this past January.  The 99-member cast was split among five different groups, with rehearsals taking place before and after school, as well as on some Saturdays.  Schedules must be tight by design.  A license purchased to produce a show such as High School Musical, Jr. is good for exactly one year, according to Bruno, and thus the operation must operate like clockwork. 

Despite bouts of COVID creating obstacles among cast and crew, the four shows staged in April stayed on schedule and proved a huge success by all measures.

“I couldn't be more pleased with the response of our audiences this year.  I am certain that it's because High School Musical is a movie with which today's students are very familiar, and, for this reason, I feel like we had more student support at shows this year than ever before.  Our crowds were huge and incredibly energetic for all four shows, which makes performing so much more fun for our cast!” Bruno said. 

Also notable, according to Bruno, the sixteen male students in this year’s production.  Given the storyline of High School Musical, Jr., it was a natural fit and a welcomed surprise for Bruno.

“I am so proud of the gentlemen who stepped outside of their comfort zone to try something new.”

As HTMS Theatre begins its planning for next year, Jennifer Bruno encourages all students to at least consider exploring the stage. 

“So many people shy away from the word theatre because they feel that it is only for the person who sings and dances with a spotlight center stage.  Theatre is so much more than that, and I strive to make it attractive to every student.  Almost every one of our 180 school days is focused on skills that can be used on the stage, but have extensions to other school subjects, other classrooms, outside of school walls, and, most importantly, can be used for the rest of life.”

Jennifer Bruno is in her 22nd year of teaching.  She spent her first three years at Leeds Elementary before coming to Trussville.  Whether directing or choreographing, she has worked with drama in some capacity every year that she has taught, in addition to experience teaching core academic subjects.  In 2016, she began working with theatre full-time at HTMS.  Bruno manages two different types of theatre at HTMS---theatre classes and extracurricular theatre.  Theatre classes put on the school’s annual black light shows, as well as other class shows.  Extracurricular theatre produces spring musicals.