Monday, October 18, 2021

MIA Performing Arts: Taking Things to Another Stage

As the current school year drew to a close, Chris Dayett was eagerly anticipating what lay ahead for Marco Island Academy’s performing arts department.

Since becoming MIA’s performing arts instructor in January of 2017, Dayett has the program on ascent where both student interest and the type of experiences made available to them are concerned.

For example, MIA made its debut this school year in local, regional and statewide scholastic theatrical competitions, coming away with multiple awards each time. In addition, Dayett-led productions of “Aladdin Junior” in March and “Willy Wonka Junior” in January 2018 were major successes. And Dayett says he’s begun to see growing interest from students in the classes he teaches in taking part in the performing arts.

“When I go back and think about this year and all the things we’ve done that were not in the cards and not in the budget, and what we’ve been able to accomplish, I can’t wait for next year,” he said recently.

The Wilmington, Delaware native received a BS in Marine Biology and a BA in theater with a minor in vocal music in 2005 from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. For the next 10 years, he worked as a music director and theater arts instructor for several churches and parochial schools. Dayett then resumed his education, earning a master’s degree in theater from Villanova University in Philadelphia in 2016.

During his hiatus from academic pursuits, Dayett began to pen plays and musicals, including his master’s thesis; a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” entitled “Dorian Gray the Musical.” The production made its Off-Broadway debut in 2017 when it was selected for the New York Musical Festival, where it received the Show-Score Best of Fest: Concert-Event Award.

Dayett said his goal when coming aboard, mid-school year, at MIA was to simply “keep things running” while he slowly became acclimated. He was also in the midst of working, long-distance, with his production team in Philadelphia to ready “Dorian Gray the Musical,” for the festival.

But with the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, his focus has been centered on helping the performing arts department flourish.

Sean White, left, Harvey Millar and Ryan Sullivan backstage at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall.

He was unable to do a spring production at the school during that first full year, but rectified that in year two with that “Willy Wonka Junior,” which was held outdoors, on the school’s Champagne Pavilion.

Dayett said the two performances inspired a number of students to get involved this school year.

“They were saying, ‘Oh, I think I want to get involved with this next year, I didn’t think it was going to be that cool, I didn’t think it would be that much fun, but I really enjoyed it,’” he said. “It’s about slowly building up those relationships with the students and getting them interested.”

He also found teachers asking him to pass along relaxation techniques and vocal exercises to students preparing for important speeches.

“Students who would not usually enter my classroom, I got an opportunity to work with them and they got an opportunity to see what it’s like, and I’ve noticed that slowly, some of those students are now taking my classes,” said Dayett. “I think it’s about finding ways to make theater fun and making the performing arts accessible to everyone. That’s a lot of what I did last year.”

This year’s instructional load included teaching Intro to Theatre, Advanced Theatre, Theatre Production, Public Speaking, Chorus, Intro to Film and Advanced Film and Production Design and Marketing. He also began looking into something he’d been interested in doing at previous teaching stops: taking part in the International Thespian Society, an honor society for high school and middle school theater students.

Internet searches for information on the society’s Florida branch bore no fruit until last October, when he secured an email address for Laura Licata, chairman of ITS District 6, which includes Collier County. Their subsequent conversation included the news that the district was holding a one-act competition that week at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers.

Licata invited Dayett and his students to attend as observers, but soon asked if they could perform, scripts in hand, which would enable the district to have enough participants to meet organization requirements to send winning schools to the state competition.

So Harvey Millar, Sean White and Ryan Sullivan were able to experience taking the stage at the Barbara B. Mann, where they performed a scene from “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

“Everyone walked home with a ribbon,” said Dayett.

Next was December’s District 6 Thespian Festival, where eight MIA students competed against troupes from 25 other schools, from an area stretching northward to Manatee County. They did well in the competition.

  • Emily Boxma, a senior, received three Superiors (Monologue, Musical Duet and Ensemble Acting Scene).
  • Harvey Millar, a senior, received three Superiors (Acting Scholarship Audition, Musical Duet and Ensemble Acting Scene) and one Excellent (Monologue).
  • Anthony Politi, a senior, received one Superior (Acting Scholarship Audition) and one Excellent (Monologue).
  • Jay Adams, a senior, and sophomore Grace Fields both received Excellent in Musical Solo.
  • Sean White, a; junior, received one Superior (Ensemble Acting Scene) and one Excellent (Musical Solo).
  • Wesley Hertgers, a junior, received one Good (Monologue) and one Excellent (Musical Solo).
  • Joey Puell, a sophomore, received two Excellents (Monologue and Musical Solo).

Boxma, Millar and White’s Superior-rated performances qualified them for March’s one-week long Florida State Thespian Festival, held in Tampa.

There, Boxma received a Superior for her monologues, while she and Millar received and Excellent for their musical duet (“Mix Tape” from the play “Avenue Q”). Millar, White and Boxma received a Superior for their ensemble acting scene from “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

“From what I understand, the Florida State Thespian Festival is the largest theater festival in the world,” said Dayett. “At first I thought they were talking about only youth theater gatherings, but no, they were talking about all theater festivals.”

MIA Principal Melissa Scott credits him with transforming the performing arts program.

“One of Mr. Dayett’s greatest accomplishments has been drawing out the best talent in each student that crosses his path,” she said. “His students have found the courage to step forward and sing, act, and reveal hidden talents within themselves. Mr. Dayett has become an ambassador for our school, showcasing our students within our community and on our very own campus. In Mr. Dayett’s first full-year on campus, we staged our very first live musical to unprecedented success, and it was due to his relentless commitment to his students, musical theater, and our school community.

“When I was in high school, I was involved in theater and musical productions, loving every second of it,” she added. “Being around Mr. Dayett, visiting his classes and sitting in on auditions and/or rehearsals makes me nostalgic for those days gone by. He fuels that type excitement among my students and that is truly a principal’s dream.”

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