The Tale of Two Theaters: Galway and Schenectady

Created by Virginia Thorpe, made from a combination of posters for the musicals.

Virginia Thorpe

Created by Virginia Thorpe, made from a combination of posters for the musicals.

Virginia Thorpe, Sr. High Staff Writer

Ah, the theater. It is a place of bright lights, colorful costumes, accents, choreography and all manner of wondrous things. It is the one place outside of a book that can carry you all the way from the bottom of the sea to the highest mountain peaks, from poverty to the most refined of royal courts, or from romance and heartbreak. 

We are presented with the fruits of hard work and from that we can sit back and enjoy a world unlike any other. But what is it really like under all the makeup and eloquent lines? What happens under the lights and behind the curtains? 

Well, here it is, a look into how the performances are made and what becomes of them. 


Galway High: Disney’s The Little Mermaid 

Ursula (Mariska Leszczynski)

Revenge, black magic, a wild hairdo and an interactive costume, what is there not to like about Ursula. She might be the sea witch antagonist of ‘The Little Mermaid’ but she is a villain many of us in Galway have grown to like. 

Her opening song ‘Daddy’s Little Angel’ peels back the layers of her childhood as the last of seven sisters and the least favourite of them all. From the beginning it seemed that the betentacled tyrant had always sought her father’s approval and when her six sisters stood in her way she brandished her black magic to get the highest seat:

‘Daddy’s little angel/ Daddy’s little sweet/ Daddy’s little frilly femme/ She was seaweed and spice and everything nice/…I put her on ice/…Daughters three and Four/ Washed up on the shore/ sadly Five and Six were never found/ Ha!/’. 

Dark, humorous and sarcastic at points, she simply shrugs off the implied murders of her sisters…only to have the royal rug pulled out from under her by the youngest of their eight siblings, Trident (Eric Reekie). Laying claim to kingship of all the oceans, he banishes his sister to a desotale portion of the seas where she practises her spells, bringing in the odd customer. Her naïve niece, Princess Ariel, soon finds her way into the web of vengeance and Ursula seizes her chance. 

Her comedic lines delivered in a mid-Atlantic accent bring out another layer of the story that is often overlooked when it comes to highschool performances, dimension. 

Leszczynski uses her own version of masked impatience and sass to bring about a deal with Ariel (Alexis Heuser) and entraps ‘vibrato, legato, even your belt’ in the shell that is the source of all her power. Ariel makes the most of her three day contract and tries to get the dashing Prince Eric (Aiden Reekie-Mel) to kiss her…all the while Ursula is meddling with the relationship to meet her own terrible ends. 

Some of us in the crowd might want to see her succeed (I know some of you do, don’t deny it), to just to hear her sing again or throw another quippy verse at her relatives, but that just isn’t to be in this story. As the villain Ursula is (sadly) doomed to fail and for Prince Eric to marry Ariel, but her story didn’t end there. 


Schenectady High: Little Shop of Horrors

Seymour Krelborn (Austin Summers)

We’ve all heard the stories of shy boys who want to get the girl but just don’t have the nerve. However, if you drop an extra-terrestrial plant and an amazing cast into the mix you have yourself a comedy like no other. Born from a ‘total eclipse of the sun’ the Audrey II is a ‘strange and interesting plant’ to most eyes, but to Seymour Krelborn it is an opportunity, he just doesn’t know it yet. All the while, this comedic and terrifying storyline is being narrated by the new version of the three Greek Muses, affectionately dubbed ‘the Urchins’ in this production.

In this adaptation, Seymour is a seemingly ordinary young man who likes working with plants and his friend, Audrey (Jasmine LaVarse). His boss, Mr. Mushnik (Harper Scism) up and announces that he is closing the shop because there are no customers in Skid Row, Audrey, desperate to keep her job, tells Seymour to get his ‘strange and interesting plant’ from the back room. The awkward Seymore returns with it, potted in a coffee can, and to his friends’ surprise it is not a known breed of fly-trap. He places it in the window and not ten seconds later a customer walks in remarking on the Audry II then buys $100 worth of roses. ‘Strange and interesting plant’ they say…‘strange and profitable day’ thinks Mushnik. 

Seymour soon learns that his plant is an obstinate creature that will only settle for one meal; human blood. Desperate to keep both favour with Mr Mushnik and his job Seymore feeds the plant his own blood in small increments, until one day the plant is almost as big as he is. Then it does something no one was expecting. It spoke. 

Audry II (voiced by Yael Woods) deeply sings Feed Me Seymour until the young man is obliged to do so…the only question is who to feed to the plant. 

Earlier that day Seymour meets the self confident and abusive Orin Scrivello DDS (Frederick Durocher) who is also the human Audrey’s boyfriend. The usually reserved Seymour is furious that Orin is with Audrry and when egged on by the plant for food, a terrible idea floats in the room between them. Murder. 

But killing Orin didn’t matter right? He was a terrible person and if the plant was bringing in business…who was going to miss him…Well, Seymour walked into Orin’s place of work, a dentist office of all things, and pulled a gun on him. 

The next few minutes are wrapped in a hilarious back-and-forth between the florist and the dentist, eventually ending in the dramatic death of Orin, and a meal for Audrey II. 

Soon one death becomes two, and a third follows leaving Seymour utterly alone…

The moral of the story is that getting what you want always comes at a price, and it certainly did for everyone involved.  


On one hand we have Mariska Leszczynski, a sophomore from Galway High playing the most evil octopus of all the Earth’s oceans and on the other we have Austin Summers, a junior from Schenectady High playing the torn young florist with a dark secret to success. From both we receive a look into what it is like working behind the velvet curtain, so here it is:

Thorpe: ‘Your dream role, a dream musical, what would it be?’

Summers: ‘That was it, Little Shop was it. My Mom introduced me to it when I was eight years old, and I fell in love with the story. Yeah, some of it’s dark but there was comedy in it too, and I loved it. Rick Moranis was the best actor to me, and then I became him for the role. I’ve watched it a million times I knew –well, I now know all the lines to it– and I loved it.’

Thorpe: ‘Would you ever consider playing an out right villain instead of one with someone internal conflict.’

Summers: ‘Honestly, I would be, I feel it would be very unexpected. I hear from most people that I am a very honest, kind, very nice guy, sweet, charismatic, but to completely transition from that and become something evil, I think it would be a fun experience and a challenge for me. It would be fun to wow an audience like that, especially my family.’

Leszczynski: ‘I like playing the villain. With this type of character I can be someone wild, act crazy, go ballistic and it’s all fun and games. The darkness of it makes it entertaining, but being in the head of that character is when I have fun. There is a difference between watching and performing. When you watch the show, all that you can see is the final product and the story, but being the actor, or actress, you can really see what it’s like to be them. You put yourself in their shoes, and that’s what I did with Ursula…I would play a protagonist, I would be different to expand my range of character, and getting type casted for the villain isn’t what I want to do forever.

Thorpe: ‘Is there a particular mid set you have to take on when you’re going to do one of the ominous scenes for Seymore?’

Summers: ‘I found that when I had to go into the psychotic break, I’m not really the type to be psychotic or anything serious like he had gone through. I really did have to build up for that, build Seymore’s character for myself.’

Thorpe: ‘In the latter half of the show, when I was watching you lose it with Audrey II, when you were having the “Shut up, shut up, shut up” moment I was so shocked. I have never seen you be that way in real life and I never really thought that you, as you said the sweet, nice guy could be that way, it was scary. I was thinking about how actors feel the emotions, they live it, but that really isn’t true, is it? Acting is a bubble, it’s not real. Anyway, I was wondering if there was any moment in your past that fueled that, or if it was a spur of the moment, “God help me, I’m losing my head here” kinda thing?’

Summers:Insane as it may seem, I have a lot of anger build up that I don’t let out. I get angry, we all do, but I just store mine in my back pocket for a rainy day, or for the stage. So with that I have this anger that I collect, but it doesn’t just come from thin air, it comes from the little things. There is this one kid, I don’t like him, he’s a terrible guy, and when he talks to me or is around me, I just store all that repressed anger and I use it in the play. I imagined that what was coming from Audrey II was coming from him. It’s a completely different side of me. Anger’s like money, I just save it. But it exists, so I used it.’

Thorpe: ‘Did you get to see different sides of people when they are in character?’

Leszczynski: ‘Yes, with Erik [Trident], he was screaming his lines, “Never again Ariel, never again!”It was very different. He’s not normally that loud, ever.

Thorpe: ‘Yes, when I see him he’s funny and quiet and a little sarcastic, I was very shocked to see that side of him. I didn’t think he had that in him, I mean, I know he can yell, all older siblings learn at some point, don’t we, but hearing that I was astounded.’

Leszczynski: ‘Yeah, we’d be in the wings laughing or lip-syncing it when he says his lines. If something funny happens backstage some of us will be like, “Never again Ariel, never again,” and we get a few laughs out of it. But seeing people in character the first time was really weird.  Seeing Eric yell it was strange. I was like “Holy cow, I worry for his poor future children because at some point in their lives he is going to yell at them” I turned to Aiden, I ask if this is what he has to live with at home, but I don’t remember what he said. With Aiden, I’ve been in drama with him since 2020 and seen the personas he has, and it wasn’t too different. We all have an acting voice, though, as small as it might be on stage, and it’s a tiny change. With Lexi, I was on cheer with her, and we all had to be peppy and happy and to see her like that it wasn’t that different. It was fun seeing her be a Disney Princess, and then be her off stage…You get used to the changes in people, it’s all part of the show.’

Thorpe: ‘Was there a way for you to shift from one mind set to the next, a switch you could flick in your head to go from regular Mariska to Ursula?’

Leszczynski: ‘When it comes to our characters we have to develop them for ourselves, and when we do that we create a very separate persona from our real lives. You are not your character, your character would not resemble you. The persona you create is totally different and should be. When I talk about Ursula I say “She” not “I” because we are different, Ursula is a different personality altogether. I’m not her, so there can be no overlap. But I did have some fun creating her voice. I took a lot of the character from Pat Carrol, who was the voice of Ursula in the movie. I put on this voice so Ursula can be separate from the rest of the case. She’s exiled royalty, so I gave her this British-ish accent, a sort of vaguely regal air. It developed her role to a further point.’

Thorpe: ‘What is the most memorable moment from the play that you will carry forward in life?’

Summers: ‘The first performance, Thursday, I was frozen against the back of the set. During rehearsals I’d dance around and goof off, usual backstage stuff, but opening night I was frozen there. It went unnoticed, but my friend was able to make her way behind the set and get me out of the stage fright. I had never known what stage fright was like until that moment, I was like “You’ve got to move, your cue is coming up, MOVE!” but I didn’t. My friend managed to get me out of it. It wasn’t a “Hey it’s alright” in a calm way it was a stern, “MOVE!”. I needed that, it definitely saved the start of the show. That was a very important moment to me, they identified that I needed help and did something about it.’

Thorpe: ‘Was there any backstage shenanigans that were memorable for you?’

Leszczynski: ‘Everybody thinks that we’re back in the wings worrying over our lines, trying to remember the next ones, but no. Back there we are boogying, we’re doing stupid dances with our friends and yeah, trying to get the people on stage to laugh. There was this one time I got caught backstage on a broom and I was yelling “I’m stuck!’ like a thousand times.’

Thorpe: ‘The hoop skirt has a wide circumference, you must have had to clear doorways or that dress. That must have been pretty tedious. Was it though?’

Leszczynski: ‘We did. It was very hard being in the wings, it was a tight space. But going back to funny things, Giz would take photos while they were on stage before their cue, and it was hilarious the photos they got. The first day we got out mics when we did notes at the end, Miss Keller was telling us to be careful about not saying things when we got off stage because they could still hear EVERYTHING we said. One day someone yelled “I need some water,” and it was Riley [Flounder], so we would say that every time we got off stage as a joke. 

Thorpe: ‘Would you consider playing with your co stars again?’

Summers: ‘Yes, I loved being in the show with them. They’re all great people and we do have our students written pieces too. That’s our next opportunity and I’m definitely excited for that.’

Thorpe: ‘With the mersisters there was dynamic. Because of their roles, they were pretty bratty, but that’s their thing and I liked it. I was thinking to myself opening night, “Oh, there’s attitude, they nailed this,” It was fun to watch as Lexi played the little sister role, the “Hey, stop, just ‘cause I’m different doesn’t mean you can be mean to me” kind of thing, because from what I’ve observed she a relatively quiet, nice person, I’ve never seen her be the waif for the character, or cry because of a snotty comment.’

Leszczynski: ‘It is fun to watch, because Lexi is older than them, we joke about this a lot, but we wanted there to be this sad little sister aspect, and she pulled it off. The mersisters pulled it off too. They had the right amount of attitude for it.’

Thorpe: ‘Were there any alterations to the play that you made from night to night? Little changes to help improve it?’

Leszczynski: ‘Not from night to night, but there was my character that we had to modify because of what our resources were. Ursula is supposed to become this huge, angry octopus, but we couldn’t do that, so I tried to make her death as dramatic as possible to make up for that. And in one of my songs I wasn’t allowed to say damn so I said dang.’

Thorpe: ‘The whole show is based on the singular plot for Prince Eric to “Kiss the Girl”, but he didn’t. In a real life sense I can see why, Aiden is in a relationship, so it makes sense not to. So how did that work in the show, getting rid of the kiss. Was it hard to reroute how the show was performed from the original kiss scene?’

Leszczynski: ‘There was never an official discussion but they decided not to because neither felt comfortable with it. But there was an alternative written to the show so they didn’t have to kiss. They only kiss once in the movie, at the wedding scene. People make this big thing about Ariel and Eric kissing because that’s the whole point of the show, but the show works perfectly fine without it. Another instance like this was in Shrek. We didn’t get to perform it but the end point was true love’s kiss. They weren’t going to, so the plan then was for them to actually high-five, and that would have worked too. The adults have seen this stuff before. The actors’ comfort is more important and the kiss, the actors’ comfort comes first.’

Thorpe: ‘Working with some of the ‘movie magic’ of the theater world, was there anything really hard for you, or that you didn’t feel comfortable doing?’

Summers: ‘During the scene where I was eaten by Audry II, firstly we had to crawl into this puppet contraption that’s about as big as three of me put together. And it wasn’t just me hidden there, it was Jasmine as well. Once we went into the puppet we were essentially spit out the back end and the two of us had to hide under a small table. For me that was hard because there are two people already inside the puppet, we did use puppeteers for this show and running into them was, well, kind of embarrassing, cause we can’t see where we’re going and there was this one time I knocked into the puppeteer’s behind. I felt really bad after the words, and then I crashed into Jasmine under the table, so that was weird too. It wasn’t so much that I felt uncomfortable doing it, it was for the show and there was really no going back, but what made me so reluctant to do it was that I felt REALLY bad about it afterwards. But we had fun, so that made it okay in the end.’

Thorpe: ‘Did the play have any lasting effects on you at home, or any time off stage.’

Summers: ‘Yeah, um, not necessarily the conflict of it but his love for plants. I had loved plants before but I had never gotten the boost to move farther into that, now I’m definitely there. I’m now doing a lot more with plants, just not as dangerous as feeding them dead people like Seymore did…Cause I don’t want to go to jail any time soon.’

Thorpe: ‘Please don’t recreate the Audrey II, there isn’t a way to bring you back if it eats you, or Jasmine and Fred and Harper.’

Summers: ‘Don’t worry, I won’t. I’m invested enough in my plants to kill them.’

Thorpe: ‘How much work did you have to do for your costume? Did you get to decide how Seymore looked?’

Summers: ‘Well, most of the costume was mine to begin with. I normally dress conservatively, almost in a nerdy way, and it fits the role. Like I said before, I was very close to Seymore’s original character. I joked once that I’d just show up one night in the clothes I had worn that day and when I showed up my sibling just said “Go out in what you’re wearing. I don’t see the difference.” Little Shop was sort of relatable, it was somewhat realistic, aside from the murderous plant, unlike some shows. On Broadway there are so many wild costumes, but with it was an everyday kind of wardrobe…I did have some control over how he looked. The hat I was wearing in the show was mine and I just had to look shy and smitten.

Thorpe: ‘I noticed that you have the most interactive costumes in the show. Moving pieces like your tentacles, the hoop skirt, was there ever a problem with them?’

Leszczynski: ‘Oh, where do I start? When I first got the dress it was completely different. The only original piece of the dress was the top, they had to make a lot of changes, and this was back in late February, they had to take eight inches from waist, seven inches  from sleeves, this dress was so big on me. The main issues were with the shell. To start it was a real shell and a really nice painted shell. Lexi [Ariel] has to break it off of my neck. First day I wore it, it completely shattered into four separate pieces and poor Miss Johnson had to try and glue the thing back together –I’m very thankful to her because without her my costume would not have made it through the first night of the show. So it was holding on for dear life. We hadn’t gone over the part where she had to rip off my neck, so I was talking to Lexi about that and we were in full costume, it was Heck Week and we were doing some work. I was holding it and said “Yeah, it’s a clasp, it’s not going to break,” and indeed it did break, perfect timing right? The clasp itself didn’t break, so it wasn’t impossible to get back on but it was hard. We had to figure that part out and eventually did. We were going to go on for a practice run, and it was so last minute when we were using it, I was screaming orders so we could figure it out, it was so late that we weren’t sure that we were going to use the big prop shell or a necklace. The shell is made out of a stress ball like material, so it won’t break, but it won’t bounce back either. Every time we squeezed it, when Lexi went to take it, it was so mangled. Lexis fingerprints are still in it. And the new velcro clasp kept falling off every night, but Miss Johnson was fixing something EVERY NIGHT. There was one day after the rehearsal, the dress, the shell necklace, and the tentacles broke. The tentacles are heavy, the whole thing is about fifteen to twenty pounds, it’s hard to manage sometimes, but the ribbon for my wrist had snapped, the right one I think. Then the next one too, but Miss Johnson wasn’t there so we were all running around finding paper clips and safety pins and things to hold it together. I had a million costume and wardrobe malfunctions for the longest time.’

And there you have it folks, the tale of theaters.