Grab Bag Theater

Post image for High school student-run Grab Bag Theater builds leaders and community

Besides being home to Facebook and quiet suburban streets, Menlo Park’s lesser-known claim to fame is Grab Bag Theater, one of the only entirely high school student-run theater groups in the country. Grab Bag puts on a play, musical, and a Winter Arts Festival annually, as well as open mic nights throughout the year. The group is open to students across the Peninsula, but the majority of participants are Menlo-Atherton High School students.

Grab Bag’s next show is the musical The Boyfriend, a spoof of a 1920s comedy that centers on the efforts of English school girls in the French Riviera to get boyfriends. Shows will be on May 12, 13, 19, and 20 at 7:00 pm with a matinee on the 20 at 1:00:: pm, at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center in Redwood City.

The first show Grab Bag was Hairspray in 2011, led by a group of M-A students who initially did not intend to create a lasting theater group. “[They were] looking for more opportunities to be involved in the leadership side of theater,” senior Abby Howell, the current executive director, explained. “At the end of it, they liked it so much that they set up this whole structure.”

This structure Howell referenced consists of an executive board and a junior board, which are both elected annually. In addition to running for the position, students must also interview to be on either board. “On the executive board we have specific positions that people are assigned to,” explained Howell.

Besides the executive director, the executive board includes an artistic director, one or two development directors, a financial director, and a secretary. “Everyone on the executive board is involved in all the decision-making processes,” Howell added.

Junior Kelley McCutcheon is a co-development director this year with junior Zoe Schacter-Brodie. “We manage the junior board… [and are] also in charge of community outreach,” McCutcheon explained.

Sophomore Peter Vitale is a member of this year’s junior board. “In junior board we organize… all the open mic nights, [and] the winter arts festival,” he said.

This includes securing the venue, making playbills, and sometimes bringing snacks. Through responsibilities like these, students are able to learn leadership and management skills they might not get to experience in companies with adults.

In addition, the process of putting on a show helps students develop artistic skills like directing, choreographing, or technical directing. “It’s just a really unique thing,” McCutcheon remarked. “Like how many high school sophomores or juniors do you know that have gotten the chance to vocal direct two full-length musicals?”

Furthermore, Grab Bag’s size ensures that students get more stage time, a louder voice in planning and shaping productions, and are able to watch and learn from the peers alongside them. “It’s more of a collaborative experience than doing theater with a professional director or something like that,” Howell commented. “Everyone’s kind of learning from each other.”

Moreover, Grab Bag is a niche community that gives members a sense of belonging from the moment they join. Howell, Vitale, and McCutcheon all joined freshman year, as do most members. “When I was in eighth grade I was really really nervous obviously to come to high school… but theater is such a community that I’ve never felt that way ever,” McCutcheon reflected.

Howell noted this environment of acceptance as well: “At Grab Bag it’s kind of easier for anyone to join of any experience level, and it’s a really great way to learn how to perform and be more comfortable with yourself.”

However, being completely student run also has its challenges. “Just getting people to realize that we are a legitimate company and that we put on full-length shows [is hard],” McCutcheon commented.

This lack of legitimacy can be a problem in terms of getting funds and resources, securing musical rights to shows, which requires an adult representative, and availability of rehearsal space, which can fluctuate since the company borrows space from various local churches and community centers. Because Grab Bag has now been a fixture in the local theater scene for almost six years, some of these problems have been assuaged. Astute social media use and coordination with the M-A drama department have also helped the company establish themselves.

Ultimately, the obstacles of being entirely student-run are outweighed by the sense of ownership and happiness produced by creating a show independent of any adult supervision. “By the end, everyone is just really proud… because everyone has contributed so much, and it really feels like our show,” Howell affirmed.

Photo by Abby Howell

This is an excerpted version of an article that appeared on M-A Chronicle; used with permission

{ 1 comment }

Urinetown is Grab Bag Theater’s spring production next two weekends

Thumbnail image for Urinetown is Grab Bag Theater’s spring production next two weekends

Grab Bag Theater’s spring musical, Urinetown, will be preformed Saturday May 14, at 7:00 pm, May 20 at 7:00 pm, and May 21 at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center (1455 Madison Avenue, Redwood City). Tickets can be purchased at the door: $5 for students and $10 for adults. Most of the […]

Click to read more →

Grab Bag Theater’s fall play set for November 14-15

Thumbnail image for Grab Bag Theater’s fall play set for November 14-15

Grab Bag Theater will be performing Nothing is the End of the World (Except the End of the World) for three shows – 7:00 pm on November 14 and 1:00 and 7:00 pm on November 15 at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center in Redwood City. Explains assistant director Katie Weiner: “The show is about six stereotypical high schoolers […]

Click to read more →

Grab Bag Theater performs Rodgers & Hart musical Babes in Arms over two weekends

Thumbnail image for Grab Bag Theater performs Rodgers & Hart musical Babes in Arms over two weekends

The spring production of the Grab Bag Theater is Babes In Arms, which will be presented over two weekends at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center in Redwood City. The Leadership Board of the student-run theater group is made up of teens who attend Menlo-Atherton High School. Based on the original by Rodgers & Hart, the […]

Click to read more →

Grab Bag Theater alumni show set for Jan. 2

The Grab Bag Theater (GBT) is a local theater group known for hosting student productions, but this holiday season, they will be hosting an alumni show, featuring GBT “graduates” Hannah Rosenfeld, Dana Rust, Claire Jungleib, Zach Abt, and Margaret Ringler (the stage manager). Although this is not specifically a GBT production, the group is financially […]

Click to read more →

Grab Bag Theater stages productions thanks to involvement of students and wider community

Thumbnail image for Grab Bag Theater stages productions thanks to involvement of students and wider community

When Nina Lozinski talks about Grab Bag Theater, the emphasis is on “community,” the word she uses to describe the many people who are involved in what just may be the only totally student-run theater company in the nation. “We haven’t found another company like us, and we’ve gotten invitations to open duplicate companies in […]

Click to read more →