Up the Down Staircase

Friday, April 05, 2013 - By: Susan Quinton

Mrs. Susan Quinton and a strong cast of 21 senior students have been rehearsing this year’s theatrical production, Up the Down Staircase, in the drama room since the end of October and are excited to move onto the stage and work on the finished set at the T. Gil Bunch Centre for the Performing Arts. During the Spring Break, Mr. James O’Leary designed and built an authentic two-story set of a NYC high school from the late 1950s, and our resident costume artist, Mrs. Sally Smith, assembled a collection of teenage fashions straight from A Rebel without a Cause and American Graffiti. 

The process of selecting the annual play begins in September, when the students register for the course. Mrs. Quinton has a short list of possible projects and a process of selection is undertaken guided by the interests, experience and talents of her students. The four week selection process involves acting workshops, audition pieces and scene readings as the class explores a number of scripts and develops confidence in their acting abilities. Before midterm break, the students were given the choice between two plays, The Laraime Project or Up the Down Staircase. Their reasons for and against each script were presented and the majority, with Mrs. Quinton’s support, ruled. The more popular play was cast and rehearsals began. 

Based on the bestselling novel by Bel Kaufman, Up the Down Staircase focuses on an idealistic young teacher fresh out of college. The naïve Sylvia Barrett (Valsy B) is not prepared for the students of Calvin Coolidge High, a school situated in a low income, racially mixed NYC neighbourhood. Her colleagues, Bea Schachter (London F) and Paul Barringer (Calvin S) try to advise her but the terrible working conditions and lack of respect from her students are disheartening. Her home room class is a mix of troubled (Caroline M), funny (Austin G), angry (Hut C), bitter (Jordan C), shy (Shalev S), annoying (James C), insecure (Nyla ND), demanding (Kendra S), critical (Angie K), distracted (Addy P), helpful (Hezron R) and serious (Emma DP) students.

Author/teacher Bel Kaufman, writes from her own teaching experiences and the play is full of funny and poignant moments which are as real today as they were 50 years ago. On the other hand, the trenches of Calvin Coolidge High School are extremely different than the beautiful campus of Brentwood College. The physical structures may be diverse but the core of the educational experience is the same, the teacher/pupil relationship. Sylvia Barrett manages to ignore the inconveniences of the bureaucratic obstacles, lack of supplies and disgruntled colleagues and connect with her students.

The cast will dedicate the production to Ms. Kaufman who celebrates her 102nd birthday this spring. In a recent interview, she stated that the secret to a long life is to avoid retirement, “To retire from work is to retire from life”. She recently taught a writing course on humour at a New York College and takes salsa dance classes with her young husband, 96 years old, Sydney Glick.

Up the Down Staircase performances will be in the Killy Theatre, April 17-20, 7:30pm. Tickets are available at from the Brentwood Box Office.           

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