Students at Belmont High Theater Production

The following letter appeared in the Belmontonian on March 1, 2021.

Letter To The Editor: Override Will Allow The Arts To Enrich Students Lives

March 1, 2021 By Franklin B. Tucker 1 Comment

Photo: The BHS PAC production of the musical “Urinetown” produced in 2016.

We are writing as parents of students involved in BHS’s outstanding Performing Arts Company (PAC) and PAC alumnae/i to ask our neighbors to please consider voting YES for the Proposition 2 ½ override on April 6. Since our town’s last override passed in 2015, our expenses have risen beyond what our property taxes are able to cover, and our student population has grown by 333 students (a total of more than 900 since 2007). As we witnessed six years ago, overrides don’t just fill in our town’s economic gaps; they make it possible to hire new teachers, who in turn enrich our students’ lives. Among the tremendous benefits of the 2015 budget was the continued enhancement and development of the high school’s Theater program under the exceptional guidance of Theater Director and teacher Ezra Flam. Appointed fulltime in 2015 thanks to the override, Mr. Flam has expanded performing arts curricula to include new acting and production

Student Directed One Act Plays are a staple of the BHS PAC year. Above is from 2018’s WORDS, WORDS, WORDS By David Ives.

classes as well as extracurricular opportunities for students of varying skill sets and interests. Even as our exceptional Theater program has helped prepare students for some of the most prestigious college performing arts programs, including Berkeley, Tisch, Northwestern, Marymount Manhattan, and Syracuse, the program is also characterized by inclusion: there is space for any/all students in the musical and the Improv team. And those who prefer not to sing, dance, play instruments, or act may participate in set and costume design, lighting, sound, writing, and directing. Each of these roles is essential not only in producing entertaining and thought-provoking performances that the whole community enjoys, but in cultivating vital capacities – like technical production and project management, collaboration, self-confidence, responsibility, and perhaps above all, empathy – in young participants.

We’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in student participation in stage productions; last year more than 150 took part in the spring production of “Shrek” (compared to 100 just six years ago). Since 2013, Improv participation has doubled. At the school’s last Improv performance – just weeks prior to the coronavirus shutdown – the talented assemblage of “Improvites” barely fit on the stage of the school’s “black box” theater. Yet the expanding numbers of student participants tell only part of the story of the benefits we reaped from the 2015 override. That vital funding contributed to the appointment of 33 teachers and staff, many of whom were appointed fulltime. Instead of having to juggle multiple part-time jobs, fulltime teachers can invest their energies where they are most needed: getting to know individual students, imagining and implementing new initiatives, collaborating with colleagues, and strengthening existing programs.

As we reflect with gratitude on what the last budget override achieved, we recognize that Belmont’s Theater program continues to do more with less. Our middle school currently lacks a theater teacher, making it difficult to support a high quality and inclusive program. And while the high school continues to “get by” with only one fulltime theater staff person, most comparable high school programs (taking into consideration number of students, number of shows, and scale of shows) have at least a part time technical director or facilities manager, and many have more than one theater teacher. Even as student interest grows, our resources have become stretched thin to the point where our levels of success and inclusion are not sustainable in the long term. Our Theater program is just one example where we lack the resources and professional personnel to imagine and implement the ways of improving our curricula and achieving excellence, since all energies are invested in just maintaining current levels of achievement for a growing population of students.  https://www.youtube.com/embed/U2g3UB6DCwA?feature=oembed 2017’s musical Chicago, directed by Ezra Flam.

This year has been especially challenging for our students, as the pandemic extinguished so many social and enrichment opportunities, and our performing arts program came through to provide generative space for creativity and collaboration. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Flam, along with dance choreographer Jenny Lifson and pianist Jonathan Kessler, students were able to stage their highly popular annual Broadway Night with full on-line access. This involved the resourceful construction of an outdoor stage, including lighting, filming, and audio capacities. The school is preparing for a March production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” as well as a spring Improv show. 

As we look ahead to April 6, we are grateful for the town’s generous support in the last override, which made so many things possible for Belmont’s young performing artists. We recognize too that the past year has been economically challenging, and that this additional imposition on top of our existing property taxes comes at a difficult time. But we ask you to consider the tremendous good that was made possible from the last override, alongside the likelihood that – should this override fail to pass – we will face difficulty maintaining our current levels of funding for theater, music, and athletics. As our town’s population of school-age children has grown in the past decade, we hope we may continue to provide them with the range of transformative co-curricular learning opportunities that distinguish our community as a uniquely special place to call home.

Matt Cubstead and Caroline Light

Co-signed by:

Anelise Allen ‘18

Annie Baker ‘17

Conor Bean ‘16

Silke Berlinghof-Nielsen

Elizabeth Biondo ‘19

Nicholas Borelli ‘18

James Boyle ‘18

Lilikoi Bronson ‘18

Holly Chen

Jocelyn Cubstead ‘16

Miriam Cubstead ‘18

Julia Cunningham ‘18

Sonya Epstein ‘18

Ben Geiger

David Green ‘15

Hannah Haines ‘15

Jonathan Haines 

Marcia Haines 

Rebecca Haines ‘11

Sammy Haines ‘19

Seneca Hart ‘18

Eva Hill ‘18

Alison Hughes ‘18

Amelia Ickes ‘18

Sri Kaushik ‘19

David Korn ‘17

Josh Lowenstein

Joshua Lubarr

Lisa Lubarr

Sophia Lubarr ‘16

Raffi Manjikian ‘18

Natalie Marcus-Bauer ‘18

Alexander Nielson

Maerose Pepe ‘17

Hannah Pierce ‘20

Olivia Pierce ‘18

Greta Propp ‘18

Anjali Ramakrishnan ‘19

Samuel Rogers ‘18

Elizabeth Sattler ‘20

Rebecca Schwartz ‘18

Dillon Sheehan ‘18

Kathleen Sheehan

Kevin Sheehan

Jesse Souweine

Tess Stromberg ‘18

Georgia Sundahl ‘18

Maria Triccia

Evan Wagner ‘18

Bruce Westgate

Bruce Westgate, Jr. ‘18

Marilyn Westgate

Michelle Yan ‘17

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