Saturday, September 19, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 29

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on May 11th, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 10

Nipomo High drama debuts 'Reach: The Musical,' thanks to local creative team


It hardly ever happens in the theater world that the cast and crew of a production get to have a say in the script writing and musical composition of the work they are performing. But thanks to a happy circumstance, that’s exactly what Nipomo High School drama department students got to do before premiering the brand new play, Reach: The Musical.

A stressed-out teen navigates high school in Reach: The Musical, an original play by Wendy-Marie Martin with music by Elisabeth Weidner. The Nipomo High School performance is set to premiere on May 13.

It all came about after some collaboration last year, explained playwright Wendy-Marie Martin, who directed a show for the school’s drama department at the time and was asked to help again this year. Martin also teaches a couple of Nipomo High School drama department students privately as a vocal coach, and they were curious about trying something new for the students currently going through the department, she explained.

“They asked about the possibility of doing some kind of musical because they hadn’t had the chance to do one yet,” she said. “So I suggested to the new drama teacher, Jan Holden, that we just write something for them, and he was totally supportive of that, so we went ahead and did it.”

Martin, a PCPA actors’ training grad who also holds an MFA in playwriting, reached out to Elisabeth Weidner, the composer and musical director for Reach: The Musical, who is also the sound director and designer for the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA). They outlined the play, Martin explained, but didn’t have anything written when they began auditioning students.

They had main characters hashed out, but there were also many unwritten roles left to flesh out the play, which now includes nearly 50 characters. The play follows a high school senior dealing with the stress-inducing dilemma of making the most of her senior year, from joining school clubs to deciding a college and career.

“Last year, when I was working with this group of 15 young women, it was an all-female cast of really amazing young people who were all in AP classes—these super overachievers—and I was just watching them all stress out,” she said. “What I wanted to do with this story was to portray a young woman’s perspective who’s having to make these big decisions, plan her future, and not really being sure how to do it.”

Directing the show is Katie Mack, another theater professional who got involved after Martin’s call. She has done work locally with PCPA and the Great American Melodrama.

Mack explained that the writing process of the play, including creating the dialogue, lyrics, and music, was taking place until just weeks before the premiere on May 13. Working closely with the students has allowed the creative team of Martin, Weidner, and Mack to make the play as relatable as possible to young people today.

“We’ve had students who are really excited to be working on it,” Mack said. “They are really eager to have something they can put their fingerprints on.”

The students have suggested everything from small word tweaks to changing musical passages that are problematic vocally. Martin and Mack are always asking the students if certain segments or songs make sense to them. Often they’re surprised by what they learn, like the fact that most kids aren’t on Facebook anymore but really prefer Snapchat.

As the plot and page count expanded, so did the need for music. The style of music is the modern contemporary sound comparable to High School Musical or Glee, Weidner explained, but the subject matter is a bit more authentic.

“Even in those plays, movies, and TV shows, there’s just this level of, there’s no way that actually happened,” Weidner said. “We are trying to avoid that at all costs in our play. We want it to have things that actually happen in real high schools.”

Catch the premier
The Nipomo High School drama department performs Reach: The Musical by Wendy-Marie Martin and Elisabeth Weidner, directed by Katie Mack. The show premieres on May 13, and continues to run May 14, 20, and 22 at 7 p.m. with two matinee performances on May 14 and 22 at 2 p.m. at the Nipomo High School Olympic Hall, 525 N. Thompson Ave., Nipomo. More info: or

The collaboration with the people it’s intended for—namely high school students—has been vital, Martin, Weidner, and Mack agreed. They hope to publish and promote the play to high school drama departments across the state, and eventually the country.

On a personal level, all three have tried to instill the culture of professional theatrics in the young students. This includes everything from rehearsal notes to more involved and organized standards of quality. A handful of Nipomo High School drama students are PCPA bound, Martin said, including the lead performer. Teaching the students the strict standards of professional theater will help them in the long run, she explained.

“We’re trying to give them a real example, and because Wendy and Elisabeth and I have been through the same training process and worked together on a few shows at PCPA, we all have the same vocabulary and work ethic, so they get it from all three of us,” Mack said. “They are really starting to focus. They are coming into rehearsal and they are starting to warm up, and they are coming in prepared. It’s really cool.”

Giving the students a sense of ownership of the play is important to all of the creative team, Mack said, and they have provided the kids with all the opportunities possible to express themselves.

The teens have been blogging regularly about the process, at, where they share everything from the difficulty of quick costume changes to how hard it was stepping into the spotlight. One freshman, Alex Tippitt, wrote about how relatable the play is for her, even though she’s “only a freshman.”

“From crazy schedules to friend drama, I’ve experienced it all,” she wrote. “That’s why this show is so amazing, it relates to all ages and everyone at some point [who has] probably had these things happen to them!”  

Arts Editor Joe Payne still has crazy schedules and friend drama. Contact him at

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