HomeArtsTalented drama students pursue passion for theater on the big stage

Talented drama students pursue passion for theater on the big stage

Published March 6, 2024

BY SARA EYJOLFSDOTTIR

From her first theater production in the Philippines, senior Tristen Harris knew she had found a calling that she has pursued on the highest level ever since. Whether it be as directors of Carmel High plays or stars of productions across the Peninsula, top CHS theater students like Harris pursue the highest levels of drama both through the school and outside programs.

Beyond his acting prowess, senior Riley Mabry has demonstrated an ability to direct, stage-manage and work behind the scenes on theater productions. (photo by RILEY MABRY)

Carmel High’s drama program is expansive, ranging from a drama class taught by theater veteran Gracie Balistreri to a number of theater productions throughout the year, demanding immense dedication from students with two-hour rehearsals every day after school as well as on Saturdays. These productions provide committed students with the opportunity for leading roles, work behind the scenes through lighting or choreography and even experience directing.

“The drama program is a huge commitment,” says Jeff McGrath, director of the upcoming CHS musical “Mean Girls” and club adviser for the drama club. “And the ephemeral nature of theater is you get live performances for two weeks that we put all this work into.”

For CHS drama production regular senior Riley Mabry, his involvement in theater doesn’t end with just the acting. The member of the tenor bass choir interns as a theater tech assistant at the CHS performing arts center with McGrath and even took a free seventh to devote more time to theater tech work.

“I’ve actually found that to be a super educational experience,” Mabry says, “as we work a variety of events for whoever comes through the theater, doing anything from lighting design to stagehand work.” 

This fall, the Shakespeare aficionado took to directing for the first time as he stage-managed and assistant directed the CHS production of “Twelfth Night,” his favorite production to be a part of so far. Mabry initially started his drama journey because of his love for singing and urge for more musical opportunities.

“I fell in love with it very early on and found the community that comes with theater is an amazing place to grow up in,” Mabry says. “I owe theater a lot in terms of coming into my own as a person.”

Senior Jet Yard (center) truly found his future acting potential in last spring’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”(photo by RILEY MABRY)

Theater can be all encompassing, with students able to pursue passions in acting, singing and dancing depending on the production and theater group they are a part of. For theater stand-out Harris, musicals are the perfect conglomeration of her love for each of these distinct aspects of theater. 

“I had auditioned for a musical ‘Calamity Jane,’ and to my surprise, I was cast as the lead,” says the long-time performer, who did the production while living in the Philippines. “From then on I auditioned for every show I could and slowly fell in love with acting.”

Both Harris and senior Richard Spencer are members of the Monterey Peninsula Musical Theater group, which enables them to perform at various events on both the local and global scale, including their trip to Vietnam last summer to perform for international communities. 

This December, Spencer landed a role in Ariel Theatrical’s production of “Narnia,” portraying the main antagonist Fenris Ulf for a number of weeks on the stage. Beyond taking part in the drama class at CHS and participating in almost every Carmel High production, Spencer is also serving as a dance captain and choreographer for the CHS “Mean Girls” musical this spring. 

“In fifth grade I had my third open heart surgery, which meant that after that I was not able to play any sports, so I looked for a new activity to participate in,” Spencer says. “Once I tried drama I fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since.”

The drama club president discovered a lifelong passion in musical theater and knows he will be pursuing it down the line, even if theater is just on the side.

Senior Tristan Harris (bottom center) has proved herself to be a talent in the world of theater, both through acting and singing that she has demonstrated during her years in the CHS drama program and the Monterey Peninsula Musical Theater group. (courtesy of TRISTAN HARRIS)

One up-and-coming member of the Carmel drama scene is freshman Naima Nascimento. A double threat, Nascimento excels in both acting and song-writing, which she demonstrated by not only starring in the musical “Sirena” this summer, but also creating most of the show’s song lyrics.

“The experience really made me want to try more drama and musical theater,” says Nascimento, who co-wrote Big Sur Fiddle Camp’s “Sirena” with 19-year-old Sekoya Sleeth. “We also performed it at the CHS theater, so it was really cool to connect and share it with the community.”

Another regular of CHS drama productions is senior Jet Yard, who McGrath says has proven himself to be an incredible talent as a performer and leading-man potential professionally. The comedian is looking to continue drama in some way in the future, whether that be as a hobby with friends, extracurricular activity in college or even a career.

Similarly for Mabry, who has been doing drama ever since his first role as a singing tree in a Carmel River School show, drama will always be a part of his life, no matter what.

“I know that I’ll end up in theater somehow at some point in my life, either on stage or behind the scenes,” Mabry says. “It’s always been a home for me, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.” 

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