It was April, 2019, and the sights and sounds of a musical in progress filled the Jefferson High School auditorium: the smell of sawdust, sound of drills, bits of conversation between student and director, “and 1, 2, 3 ...” from Vocal Music Director Katherine Schereck as students launched into another try at perfecting “We Tell the Story ...” from last year’s production of Once on This Island.”
Flash forward to today: the JHS auditorium sits dark, still and quiet. No laughter from the dressing rooms. No pounding of hammers. No spotlights shining on the edge of the stage. No students calling “line!” No “Let’s take it from ... one more time … breathe ...” from Katherine Schereck directing vocal music rehearsals.
Like all of the games, practices, parties, banquets, tournaments, parents’ nights, rehearsals, team dinners and ordinary moments (such as sharing laughs at lunch) that together create the “high school experience,” musical productions have been brought to a halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Addams Family, School Edition” would have taken the JHS stage on April 24, with vocal music direction again under the creative, compassionate and extremely competent tutelage of Katherine Schereck. With her upcoming retirement, this musical might be her last, or perhaps we saw her last with “Once on this Island” in 2019.
Mrs. Schereck has been an integral part of creating musicals at JHS since the 2004 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”
Katherine Schereck grew up participating in musicals and dance, from her early middle school and high school performances in Racine through her college work with the Madison Savoyards, which produced many Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. She also has been in casts or production teams of community theater productions for the Watertown Players, Whitewater Area Regional Ministry and Fort Atkinson Community Theatre.
Her work in school districts prior to Jefferson included direction or musical direction for Madison Summer Rec, Marshall Middle School, Fort Atkinson Middle School and Waterford HIgh School.
Of her memories from Waterford, Schereck states: “The most memorable moment was when I was playing piano for ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ During the main dentist scene, the actor playing the Dentist was so into his character that he fell off the stage and into the pit. However, he kept singing, reaching a hand up, grabbing the edge of the stage and finishing the song.”
Since she began her career in Jefferson, Schereck has served as vocal music director/sound designer for 10 musicals, including the aforementioned “Oklahoma!”, “Grease,” “Anything Goes” and “The Wizard of Oz” in 2014, earning a Jerry Award (previously Tommy Award) for her work in this production.
Schereck remembers: “I will never forget our Toto! He got so excited to see his trainer in the audience that he pranced right down the stage to greet him. Also memorable ... little baby Noah Clarksen (with parents on the production staff) wanted to see mom ... who just happened to be backstage. So, of course, Noah walked right up the stairs and backstage to find her!
“Being a vocal music director has many challenges,” she reflected. “The coordination of the production as a whole is very challenging. We all work so hard separately, that once we come together it can be frustrating to take that step backwards. Flexibility is the key.
“As a vocal music director, you have to work with every cast member, regardless of musical background,” Schereck added. “Some years the cast just takes off musically, others not so much. Many times, choral parts have to be altered while not compromising the score.”
Rewards always outweigh the challenges. Schereck states: “I think when the cast has gone through the hard work, the rehearsals, the seemingly endless ‘rehearse, practice, repeat,’ and they can feel the pride at the end of a show ... that’s my biggest reward. These humans have learned how to work together, how to communicate with one another and have created art together. There is no comparison to the emotional connection you get from this.”
Every memory — from the beautiful gingham double circle skirt made by Schereck’s mom for a middle school production of “Oklahoma!” to recent rehearsals with JHS senior Mady McWilliam for “The Addams Family School Edition” — left a lasting impression on Schereck, her family and friends, her colleagues, her students and countless audiences through the years.
When asked the very difficult question about the overall impact her work in musicals has had on her career and her students, Schereck responds, “I became a choral director because music changed me. Musical theater has always been part of my life. The ability to express yourself through music and drama is an outlet that not many understand. There is a secret club, if you will, for those that participate in musical theatre. We all understand its work. We have all spent endless rehearsal nights trying to perfect one moment on stage. It is what connects me to literally thousands of students.”
Those thousands always will have moments and memories to bring a smile or laugh, a bit of nostalgia, and the influence of outstanding educators like Katherine Schereck, who will retire this June with many fantastic and meaningful connections behind her, and so many more to come.