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Mustangs Take Manhattan - OHS Drama Students Enjoy Slice Of New York City
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Representing Oakdale in their finest, a group of 39 students and 10 chaperones gather for a picture in Times Square on their final night in New York City. - photo by COURTESY OF MINDY JOHNSON

As many contemplated Memorial Day plans and graduation parties during the last week of May, one select group of Oakdale High students and a handful of adults had ‘Big City’ plans.

On Sunday, May 27, a group of 39 students and 10 adults (including OHS Drama and Choir Instructor Bryan Mills) loaded a school bus (courtesy of the OHS Music Boosters) with luggage in tow and headed for San Francisco International Airport. Final destination would be JFK Airport, New York, New York.

The group of nearly 50 travelers were participants in the 2012 OHS Drama/Broadway Tour. The five day/four night tour was jam packed with Broadway shows, tour attractions and drama workshops.

This trip marked the eighth of its kind for Mills, but the third in his teaching career at OHS.

“This is the first time we’ve gone after school’s let out,” the instructor stated. “I chose to change it this time because of the weather. We usually go at Spring Break and then we have to worry about snow and cold. This time of the year brought less worry about the weather. It’s really a weather thing.”

Regardless of the season, the itinerary stays the same for the trip taken every other year by the drama group.

“It’s mostly drama kids,” Mills explained. “Usually kids from my class. I feel it’s important to know the kids before I go.”

The instructor went on to share that the trip is geared around acting and exposing the students to workshops, training and Broadway shows.

“I think the three workshops are the most beneficial. They get the training from Broadway actors and seeing the Broadway shows. That’s inspirational,” said Mills.

During their five days in the Big Apple, the 39 students did a number of things including: Liberty Island, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, Grand Central Station, Ground Zero and a number of other New York City attractions most via subway transportation.

They were also treated to three Broadway shows and workshops covering topics of acting, musical theatre and making a scene.

This year the students were presented with the choice of one of two shows per night over the course of the three nights.

Production choices included: Wicked, Mary Poppins, Lion King, Peter and the Star Catcher, War Horse and Godspell.

“Personally, if it were just me I would go to all musicals, but they need to see a balance. Not all students are musical actors, this gives them a good balance,” Mills stated.

But before the students can go anywhere, deposits must be made, payment schedules issued and permission forms signed. While the overall expense of the trip pales in comparison to what one would pay traveling as an individual, the trip is still far from free.

“Starting early with fundraising is the key,” the instructor said. “Having Diane (Rodrigues, fundraising chairperson) really freed my year up. Some people paid their own way through fundraising sales. The key is that by doing this, you’re allowing every kid to have an opportunity to go.”

Rodrigues, also an OHS parent in addition to her fundraising chair role, shared that she was more than happy to help with the fundraising efforts. She, along with her husband David and their two children Madeleine and Paige Rodrigues, first attended the trip in 2010 when Madeleine was a sophomore.

In respect to what she likes most about the school trip Rodrigues stated, “Having a condensed tour of all the highlights of New York under the guidance of native New Yorkers. That gives them an opportunity to see several different aspects of city life.”

This year the family joined the tour once again (minus Madeleine, who had other post graduation plans).

“It’s such an opportunity,” Rodrigues said. “Some of these kids will never get an opportunity like this again. Some will, but it’s just an amazing opportunity.”

One such student and second time OHS tour traveler Emily Johnson offered her perspective on the opportunity presented to the students.

Johnson was also on the 2010 NYC trip and returned again this year, this time with her mother Mindy as one of the chaperones.

“The first trip was so exciting,” Johnson stated. “I had a lot of fun because I knew a lot of the people on the trip (more so than this time).

“It was totally different than when I have traveled there with family. When it was with a group everything was more scheduled.”

The just-graduated senior shared she felt the trip is good anytime for someone who loves New York City, adding that each trip was a bit different, as this time she was older and a bit more in tune with certain things.

“Like the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” she explained. “Two years ago it didn’t mean that much to me, but now that I’m getting into art it meant much more.”

Johnson also shared how much she enjoyed the individual workshops, stating, “Just having the opportunity to talk to them and see what you’re going to have to do to do it (act).

“If we didn’t have the workshops it wouldn’t have had the real, reality check to the trip. These are people that are in the business telling you how it really is,” she said.

For this year’s trip Johnson cited two memorable highlights.

“Having my mom with me,” she said, without hesitation. “Getting to talk about memories with her; that was awesome. Just have the time together, the two of us.

“Godspell was a definite highlight,” she added. “I knew the music because it’s one of my favorite musicals. Seeing the stage and the set made me excited, it was totally different than what everyone expected.”

In addition to taking in the hit Broadway play, Johnson’s mother won a backstage tour and was able to take a few of the students with her.

“The backstage tour was awesome,” Johnson stated.

“Honestly, I just love exposing the kids to the profession,” Mills summarized of the biennial trip. “Having War Horse and Mary Poppins actors come to the workshops. The students being given the opportunity to ask them questions, it’s just great.”