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Mohawk mulls future of school’s rejuvenated drama program

Recorder file/Paul Franz
Trolls decide whether to eat Bilbo, played by Zach Arfa, in the Mohawk Trail Regional School's spring production of "The Hobbit."

Recorder file/Paul Franz Trolls decide whether to eat Bilbo, played by Zach Arfa, in the Mohawk Trail Regional School's spring production of "The Hobbit."

BUCKLAND — After the great success of this year’s school play, “The Hobbit,” the rekindled enthusiasm for performing arts at the Mohawk Trail Regional School was somewhat dampened by news that Drama Coordinator Jonathan Diamond’s part-time position is not in next year’s school budget.

Some 50 people, from selectmen to school parents and students, came to talk about the future of the drama program, in light of budget cuts that were built into the budget proposal in February, at least a month before “The Hobbit” was even performed.

Diamond, a Double Edge Theatre alum and director of innovative plays at the Heath Elementary School, was brought to Mohawk this year, along with Music Director Scott Halligan, to rejuvenate the school’s performing arts — which have been in a slump following the retirement of long-time music director Nicholas Waynelovich.

Halligan, who was recommended for the job by Diamond, was hired on a full-time basis, and Diamond was hired to work on a “half-time” basis, for $25,000 plus full-time benefits.

But next fall’s budget plan is to hire a three-month drama coach, working from January through March, for a $10,000 stipend.

“What we all have in common is that we all value the arts,” Principal Lynn Dole told the group. “We want to show you where we want to take the arts, and where we want to take you with us.”

Dole said that Mohawk has always had staffing for music and visual arts — and stipends for theater. Waynelovich, for instance, was a full-time music director with a stipend for theater productions.

But this year, they made “a commitment to invest in the arts” by hiring an experienced drama teacher (Diamond) at higher wages, according to Dole.

“We felt we needed to revitalize this program,” said Superintendent Michael Buoniconi. “We needed to do something for the kids, to bring things back, and I broke all the rules, to push for this .5 (half-time) position.”

Buoniconti said half-time positions are generally inefficient, because the school system is required to provide full insurance benefits to employees working those hours.

“The stipend for last year’s dramatic production was $2,000,”said Dole. “This year’s (production) showed us what was possible.”

As drama coordinator, Diamond organized a drama club in the fall and casting workshops for students in November. By January, there was a cast for the play. Besides the 100 or so students who were on stage, there were training sessions from professional actors, collaboration with other local schools and work by local musicians and artists-in-residence. Giant puppetry, circus arts, innovative staging and original music were all part of the show.

Those present were asked to meet in smaller groups and discuss how to keep the theater arts program “sustainable,” even with a smaller stipend.

Some ideas presented included:

∎ Reaching out more to artists within the community for their expertise and volunteer help.

∎ A “user fee” for students who participate in school plays and musicals. This fee, like sports fees, would help the school to pay for the programs.

∎ Developing partnerships with other organizations, such as the Five College Consortium.

Several people asked whether a three-month artist-in-residence would be able to muster the kind of student enthusiasm that Diamond was able to generate over the year.

“The overwhelming message we’ve heard, is we’ve experienced something beautiful this year and want to keep this keep happening,” said Buoniconti.

Some participants wanted to see more than one major production a year, and some missed having a big musical, as the school has had traditionally. One suggestion was for the school to put on three plays a year — one major production and two smaller ones.

Diamond got a warm applause from the group, and was thanked several times for the job he did with the theater program this year.

When reached after Tuesday’s meeting, Diamond said he will be leading Mohawk’s participation in the Hilltown Youth Theatre Summer Workshop from July 22 to Aug. 10. “I’d like to go out with a bang,” he said.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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