Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Spotlight,” a recurring series featuring CNMI personalities. To suggest a person to feature in this section, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They dance, sing, act. They tell a story, and, more importantly, they share our story.
Today’s Spotlight steps away from a single person to a group of Mount Carmel School students who are making waves in the community, who shine, very fittingly, in the spotlight under the benevolent wings of the school’s Theatre Club.
While stage plays had been performed on the island for decades, it wasn’t until 1996 that the Mount Carmel School’s Theatre Club was created, with the single-minded mission to tell a story one stage play at a time.
MCS president and theatre club adviser Galvin Deleon Guerrero, then a teacher at the Marianas High School, with then co-teacher Harold Easton, had a vision 23 years ago to bring formalized theatre to the CNMI. And, like a story with a happy ending, they made it happen.
Saipan Tribune recently sat down with Deleon Guerrero, and three young MCS thespians—Brandee Hunter, Mikee Mendoza, and Larry Cruz—to talk about the miracle that is theatre, as well as their upcoming production, Mamma Mia!
“Theater is such a powerful tool of, not only for expression, but for tackling difficult issues,” Deleon Guerrero said. “When you engage students and an audience in drama, and entertainment, you can really change hearts and minds. It is a very powerful way to engage people.”
The MCS Theatre Club has been engaging people for many years with almost 50 productions, from Romeo & Juliet in May 1997, to the We Drank Our Tears series last year, to Tasi early this year and, of course, Mamma Mia! this December.
Hunter, who first got into the club when she was in fifth grade for the production of The Little Mermaid in 2014, is now directing Mamma Mia!
“I’ve always loved Mamma Mia!” Hunter said. “It’s a universal story about family, love, relationships that everyone can either relate to or feel like they are a part of. For such a beautiful movie, and a beautiful show, to be put on would be just amazing.”
And that is what the MCS Theatre Club has become for many—a huge family of people with arms that welcome students from all grade levels who would love to try out and experience theatre.
“When I joined, I was immediately welcomed by this huge family that just warms your heart,” Hunter recalls. “They all accepted me. I enjoyed being around everyone, going to practice, learning the dances, learning how to act. That was really fun. It was a safe place for me to go. I fell in love with theatre club.”
“I stepped into theater club and just felt like I was at home,” added Mamma Mia! stage manager Mendoza, who began her career as a thespian in seventh grade for the White Christmas production in 2015.
Mendoza sees her journey, from being a dancer in her first production, to now being the stage manager, as a good experience. As early as now, she is already sad that next year will be her last production with the MCS Theatre Club.
“I am not ready for that circle,” Mendoza said. “When we have our last production, we talk about why we love theatre all over again and how much of a family it is. You get to interact with kids from first grade, we accept all levels. When you become an alumni, you see those kids take your spot. They become the stage manager, become the floor manager. You see them grow as you grow.”
One who is definitely looking forward to next year’s production is Cruz, assistant director and choreographer for Mamma Mia! Relatively new in theatre, Cruz started his career as a thespian in Tasi, MCS’ sold-out original musical last February.
“I immediately fell in love with being on the stage and performing and acting,” Cruz said. “I found a family here and having all these people, friends, is very heartwarming. I am very grateful and very hopeful that I get to direct my own production next year. I am looking forward to it.”
As excited as he is for next year’s production, Cruz is calling on other members of the community to experience theatre.
“Do it, definitely,” Cruz said. “If you have the chance to join any drama or theatre class that you have in your school, do it because…it’s just a great place. …You would experience things you’ve never thought you’d experience—the thrill of being on the stage, the chaos that is the backstage with everyone running around, or the week before show—all of these things that I think people should experience because it is great and it is amazing.”
With the lively performing arts scene in the Commonwealth, the Marianas High School Glee program, the Saipan Southern music program, Friends of the Arts, the Glasgow Ballet company, and the MCS Theatre Club, among many others, the next goal is to find a solid home for the performing arts in the CNMI.
As Deleon Guerrero looks back and recalls the decades of telling stories through productions, witnessing students shine as they share stories on stage, the entire community could also sit back and watch their children, young members of the community, make miracles on stage.
“It is so important for us to tell our stories,” Deleon Guerrero said. “Getting students to realize that they can tell their own stories, or they can tell their versions of stories, is really important. The rewarding things is to see that spark come alive on stage where they get it. And they feel it and they deliver it. It is just magical and I love it.”