On October 5, a group of nine students from Queen’s Grant High School travelled to UNC-Greensboro to see a student production of Pippin.
While at UNC-G, Mills’ students not only saw a matinee performance of Pippin but also attended a talk-back with the cast and crew and toured the theater and dorms. The field trip was open to all of Mills’ dance and theater students as well as students in the drama club and Thespian Society and students performing in the Fall Showcase.
Field trips to view live performances have become an integral part of the performing arts program that Theater and Dance Teacher Elizabeth Mills has built at Queen’s Grant High School. In 2017, her dance students attended the Charlotte Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty, and drama students had the chance to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Matthews Playhouse. Last year, dance students attended Innovative Works at the Charlotte Ballet while drama students had the opportunity to see Our Town at the Triad Stage in Winston-Salem.
This field trip to UNC-G was particularly special because the production involved Queen’s Grant alumna (QG ‘16) Jacquelyn Whiteside. A senior at UNC-G majoring in Theatre, Whiteside served as costume designer for the production, a prestigious role usually reserved for a graduate student.
Whiteside began her theatre education studying acting, but an innate talent for portrait drawing and an introductory costume design course last fall led her in a different direction. Still, she didn’t imagine she’d be designing for a major production as a senior. “When I first read my design advisor’s email asking if I would consider designing Pippin this fall, I thought she was off her rocker!” says Whiteside. “At the time, it had only been four months since taking an intro to costume design class, and I didn’t necessarily think I would be qualified to do it. Normally, students have to be design assistants and work on multiple shows before being given the task of costume designer, and even then they get minor shows to design.”
Whiteside began working on the costume design last spring, meeting with the director and the rest of the design team several times before putting pencil to paper last summer. “My vision for the show revolved around the influence of Bob Fosse’s style on the creation of Pippin,” says Whiteside, who calls her concept a Bob-Fosse approach to medieval attire with a more contemporary feel. “The director really wanted to emphasize and pay homage to Bob Fosse since his impact on Pippin was tremendous. What this meant for me was I incorporated the tight dance line that Fosse was known for and had to build and find costumes that would not only fit this idea, but would allow the actors to move and dance as they needed.”
“It was overwhelming but extremely humbling at the same time,” says Whiteside of the design process. “I am so grateful to have been given this wonderful opportunity and give all the thanks to my design advisor; she was able to see something in me that I couldn’t see in myself at the time and has truly made a lasting impression on my life. Her support through this lengthy process means the world to me and I’ll forever be grateful.”
Mills gave the performance and the actor who played Pippin rave reviews, but for her, the real highlight was seeing Whiteside’s costume work. “It was so cool to see her interpretation of the costumes,” says Mills, who sat next to Whiteside for the performance. “Some of the people in the ensemble had ten to fifteen different costumes. It’s so cool that they gave her the opportunity.”
For Mills, there’s immeasurable value for her current students in seeing the work of someone like Whiteside. “It’s cool to see someone from our school having a prominent position in a performance,” says Mills. “I think it definitely gives them the message that somebody like me could do this. Somebody from Queen’s Grant could go to college and could be really successful in their program. Even if they’re not interested in pursuing theater, you still see that someone who was where I am now has gotten to this place – gotten into college and is doing well.”
Whiteside joins several other Queen’s Grant alumni actively pursuing careers in the performing arts. Fellow UNC-G graduate Paige Rabinowitz (QG ‘14) discovered a love for media and special FX makeup white pursuing her degree in Film and Media Production. She currently works in New York City as a makeup artist for TV and Film. Brevard graduate Derrick Hill (QG ‘15) toured with Asheville-based children’s theater touring company Bright Star last summer and currently works at Universal Studios coordinating Halloween Horror Nights. He plans to return to Bright Star for the holidays.
Whiteside encourages high schoolers who are serious about pursuing a career in theater to absorb as much information as they can. “You may not think you need to know the history of theatre, but believe me, it will put you in a much better place and you will have a much better understanding and appreciation for theatre,” she says. “Also, don’t be afraid to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. Had I not taken this opportunity, I would not have discovered this new love for theatre!”