Northwestern Middle School drama teacher Paula Swilley is stressed.
The mother of three and soon-to-be first-time grandmother has a lot going on in addition to directing a production of “Cinderella.”
Swilley, who is married to former Zachary School Board member Scott Swilley, has been with Zachary Community Schools since it became independent of East Baton Rouge Parish schools in 2002.
After nearly 14 years of directing productions such as “Annie,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Bugsy,” “Grease” and “The Little Mermaid,” Swilley will take her final bow when she retires in May.
“I’m ready to be a grandmother,” she said Feb. 11, in between eighth-grade rehearsals and a seventh-grade class she teaches. “It’s hard. When you’re a middle school director, you’re also the costumer, ticket seller, everything. You take on every aspect of it. It’s not like there are understudies. But despite all that, it’s been fun, and I’ve worked with some amazing people.”
Swilley, a former kindergarten teacher at Bakersfield Elementary and speech therapist for East Baton Rouge Parish schools, has no formal drama training, but you’d never know it from the success of her shows and an almost sixth sense when it comes to knowing what her students need to do to better their performances.
“Hold still, don’t breathe, don’t move a muscle,” she thunders during a recent rehearsal, which calls for dozens of students to remain motionless while the show’s two main characters dance about the stage.
For this show, students portraying villagers are required to bring their own costumes in for a grade.
“For the lead roles, we’ll rent Broadway costumes. They’re going to be amazing,” said Swilley. Eighth-graders taking advanced drama with Swilley have been rehearsing for “Cinderella” since school began in August.
“About 100 students audition in seventh grade to be in this class but only about 35 make it,” said Swilley. “They have to learn a monologue, do improvisational work and sing a song.” The advanced drama course is for a high school credit, and students work all year long on the big show.
Leading the main cast are Ella Thompson as Cinderella, Celeste Cavell as the Godmother, Kaitlin Dilworth as the Stepmother and Anthony Voiers as Prince Christopher.
Also, John Thomas Hernandez as Grace, Julie Odom as Joy, Myrik Mitchell as Lionel, Sydney Doyle and Jacob Grice as the King and Queen, Kassy Castillo as Charles, and Mimi Allen, Ava Baudouin, Gabrielle Bremermann, Caylee Cole and Nadalyn Sevilla as the Mice.
In the supporting roles, the villagers, merchants, horses, coachmen, footmen, jester and palace guests will be played by Rami Abdalla, Baudouin, Maddie Beasley, Jarred Brown, Collen Cosse, Joseph Howell, Joshua Jemison, Nathan Johnson, Castillo, Hannah Kelly, Karsyn Kelley, Eric King, Katy Knecht, Tyron Lucas, Machaela Neal, Sevilla, Jessica Schwendimann and Kaytlyn Williams.
Show choir students include Yuri Ayers, A’Shanti Brown, Raven Collins, Hailey Fisher, Tahj Jackson, Peyton Jarreau, Jesse Kneisler, Destiny Louis, Taylor Mabry, Jacob Montalbano, Faith Patin, Elantra Roussell, Ethan Savario and Katharine Thompson.
Student crew members are Jasmine Terrell, sound; Jacob Vidrine, lighting board; Mikey Varnado, lead spot; and Adley Bunch, second spot.
Besides Swilley as the director, Cassi Doherty is in charge of music; Trish Dry of talented drama; Molly Myers Sartin is over dance and choreography; Rudi Spruell is responsible for set design; Jeremy McDaniel, light and sound; and Janelle Young is overseeing the program and tickets. “It’s a bittersweet time, of course. This entire production wouldn’t be possible without the support of the families of the cast and crew, my husband, school faculty and staff and many others,” Swilley said.
Also instrumental in the production are the Explore teachers, Carol Bell, Kathy Fee, Cherie Kelley and Lindsay Swilley.
The enchanted edition version of “Cinderella” is presented through special arrangement with R&H Theatricals and includes music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, stage adaptation by Tom Briggs and teleplay by Robert L. Freedman.
The show runs at 7 p.m. Feb. 24-26 at the NMS Auditorium, 5200 E. Central Ave., Zachary.
Tickets are $10 each and on sale now in the front office at the school.