With the start of “Chicago” rehearsals, stress levels increase for theater students


Yasemin Isaacs

Rehearsals for “Chicago” are held every day after school which means it takes a lot of time and energy for cast and tech crew members of the show. “It certainly adds stress to have such a busy schedule because I don’t get a lot of downtime, so I would say in that fashion, it does negatively impact my mental health,” said junior Noah Kuklinski, the rehearsal pianist for “Chicago.”

Yasemin Isaacs, Staff Writer

Rehearsals for the South High musical “Chicago” are underway, and with this comes an intense few months for the cast and crew. With learning choreography, memorizing lines, and the rigorous rehearsal schedule, it can be a stressful time for many theater students. 

This year’s musical is a production of “Chicago,” a fictional story set in the 1920’s about a woman who murders her lover and gets sent to jail. It chronicles the tale of her life in prison, her performance aspirations, and the “six merry murderesses” that she meets. 

The process involves a great deal of rehearsal for all members of the cast and crew, with ensemble and crew meeting two to four times per week, and principal roles meeting almost every day. 

Senior Jordan Dotson has been a part of the theater for the majority of her high school career, working in a variety of different positions, including acting, assistant directing, and costuming. “Over the last three or so years, I’ve usually done costumes for every show,” said Dotson. She branched out this year however as the assistant director for Breaking the Code alongside senior and director Cor Barnhill. Dotson also has a role in “Chicago” as a narrator. 

In addition to theater, Dotson is the NHS president, and is involved in numerous other South-related programs, which can be a source of stress for her, but she’s thankful for the theater staff for being understanding of her busy schedule. “Pretty much everyone in the department understands that we’re in high school and our grades come before theater…I’ve definitely been part of ensembles that don’t understand that,” said Dotson. 

Busy schedules aside from theater is a common theme among theater students, as many are involved with other arts programs or activities outside of school. Junior Noah Kuklinski has many different responsibilities in addition to theater, including practicing and rehearsing three instruments as well as being in two different choirs outside of South. The daily tasks of homework and rehearsals for the musical don’t leave him with much free time.

Kuklinski’s responsibilities for “Chicago” include being the rehearsal pianist and keyboard 1 in the orchestra pit, as well as costuming for the cast occasionally. This generally means that he stays after school until about 5:30 most days. 

Kuklinski elaborated, “It certainly adds stress to have such a busy schedule because I don’t get a lot of downtime… but I also love all the art-related things I do, and if I wasn’t doing them, that would also negatively impact my mental health because I wouldn’t be doing what I love.” 

One of the many reasons theater students love the program is because of the tight-knit community that is formed. For the most part, everyone is very supportive and celebrate each other’s successes. However, especially for the musical, a bit of competition can arise when it comes to who gets casted. Theater director Stephen Oberhardt explained more about the competition around theater. “When I was in high school, I actually did very few shows associated with my school, specifically because of the competitive rigor that was around it, I didn’t like how much it felt like a contest.” 

From a casting perspective, however, Oberhardt explained more about the thought that goes into who is chosen for each role. “I would have fewer qualms with casting a first or second year, instead of a senior, if that senior already had plenty of cool opportunities, and will continue to,” said Oberhardt. Oberhardt is the producer of the show, and therefore is involved in casting but did not have the final say, like director Nancy Lee. 

All this being said, there are definitely things that are important to stay on top of in the midst of this busy musical season, one of the most important being your mental health. Self care comes in many different forms and can play a big part in helping to calm down and relax after a long day. 

Dotson reflected on some things she does to help de-stress. “On weekends I’ll either hang out with my friends, or just chill at home…sometimes I definitely have to take a step back and listen to music on my own, or take a walk with my dog,” said Dotson. Kuklinski added that practicing instruments and or other artistic things can help. “I spend all my free time practicing, which is a lot, but also practicing is sort of how I de-stress because it gives me more alone time.” 

Whether it’s spending time alone or with friends, many students agree that taking the time to have fun and relax is really important for avoiding burnout and taking care of your mental health. However, how we physically take care of our body is also a contributing factor. Oberhardt added that sometimes we forget to do the basic things our bodies need to thrive. He explained how he did not take this advice in high school, and suffered because of it. “When I got to college, I started carrying a water bottle, I ate three meals a day, I got at least eight hours of sleep a night, I stopped drinking coffee…and once I did that it was like I lived in a new body,” Oberhardt explained. 

Another thing Oberhardt believes can be helpful is learning how to advocate for yourself and your mental well-being. Although it can be beneficial to talk about the things that are stressing us out or making us upset, it is good to check in and make sure those close to us are in a good head space to hear about problems in your life. “One thing I think you have to realize when talking to other people about your stresses is that that person is not a therapist,” said Oberhardt. 

When we advocate for ourselves during busy times, we set much needed boundaries that help us stay healthy. As Oberhardt put it, “When I’m not letting my friends use me as an unlicensed therapist, that’s pretty rad.”