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NY Mills High School students sing, dance in "Don't Stop Believin'"

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Junior C.J. Zacharias and freshman Sidney Imsande laugh while practicing a love song duet at a recent rehearsal.1 / 2
Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Senior Kendal Salo paints a wooded background scene for the musical.2 / 2

Forty students in grades seven through 12 will take the stage at New York Mills High School this weekend for a wild performance of the musical, "Don't Stop Believin.'"

For the first time in years, the cast is mostly made up of students who have never participated in drama, which made for some hectic practice sessions this fall, according to Director Rebecca Clarksean.

Over the past few years, the drama department has been losing more and more students as they graduate. This year though, there was increased interest to participate.

"I'm excited because I have new kids that have never done it," said Clarksean. "It's fun to see the light bulbs go on" as they figure things out in rehearsals.

With a new crew, Clarksean has had to make some adjustments on how she directs: "I've had to go onstage more" to show them what I mean.

The three returning seniors - Jackie Imsande, Emily Blomberg and Evan Menzie - have been helpful, quick to give the newcomers tips.

In the last few weeks, the cast has pulled it all together, and Clarksean said they're ready to give three exceptional performances this weekend.

In the show, the students play teenagers who must put aside their differences and join together to fight a city council decision to demolish the old Ethel Lampert Community Center - a popular teenage hangout. The only way to stop the city is to raise the $100,000 needed to buy the center. The plot has many twists and turns as the characters deal with various obstacles along their path to raising the funds - finally deciding that their only chance is to win a music contest.

Mixed in with all the great dialogue, music and amazing choreography, Clarksean said, there are "a lot of lessons on assumptions and working together. It's a perfect play for newcomers."

"Don't Stop Believin'" is an ensemble piece, which means the play doesn't have true lead actors, but instead all the actors have speaking and singing parts.

Therese Case and Deb Baune are assistant directing.

Clarksean said this play has been an, "awesome community event," as some have stepped forward to help design and build the sets.

The main set design came from local artist Pam Robinson. Then, agriculture teacher Luke Becker and the lead student builder, senior Noah Pesola, as well as all the actors, put about 250 hours into building the scenery.

"It's been fun to see what people come up with," Clarksean said.

The most important part of performing is that, "the kids are happy" and excited with their parts, and, "they are close to their comfort zone," Clarksean said.

"Don't Stop Believin'" will be performed this Friday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. (immediately following the Community Carnival), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the James Mann Performing Arts Center at New York Mills School. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.

All proceeds help offset the costs of scenery and scripts.