Bear Lake, Brethren and Onekama team up for production of Bye Bye Birdie

Bear lake teacher and director of the cooperative play production of “Bye Bye Birdie” looks over the script for the show with Bear lake students Curtis Kennedy, Faith Kidd, Mitchell Augenstein and Dylan Ide. This is the seventh year that Bear Lake schools have combined with Onekama and Brethren schools on a theatrical production. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

BEAR LAKE — Say the words “It’s show time” in most school districts, and it may draw a minimal response.

Repeat that phrase in either Bear Lake, Brethren or Onekama schools and dozens of eyes will light up. They know it’s time for the annual cooperative play. For the past seven years, students from these three schools have combined to put on some outstanding theatrical productions.

This year they will be joining forces for the popular classic “Bye Bye Birdie” that will take place April 19,20 and 21 at Onekama High School. Bear Lake teacher Amanda Harthun is joined by Onekama’s Kathy Joseph and Brethren’s Jackie Karnisz in once again handling director duties for the production.

“We are doing ‘Bye by Birdie’ which is the classic rock star satire from the 1950s,” said Harthun. “We have the largest cast ever, as there are 70-plus kids in this show. It is just a lot of kids want to get involved, but what is nice is we have a lot of kids that want to be on stage and an equal number of kids wanting to be backstage. That is really an asset and they are making it fun.”

Harthun said the timing couldn’t be better for developing the skills of those backstage kids.

“We were invited to nominate some of our backstage to Western Michigan University’s theater design day,” said Harthun. “It is kind of a recruitment program for Western to get some kids in there, but on March 16 they are going to offer a free day of classes for backstage things like sound, lighting and costume design.”

What amazed the directors was the design day had only 40 openings for students from all over the state to take part in the one-day workshop and seven of their students were selected for the honor. It was similar to the distinct honor the play received last year when Onekama students Tucker Laws and Emily Barnard were invited to the Ovation Awards.

“We were pretty excited about the kids going to Western this year,” said Harthun. “They have a pretty high-tech set at Western and a top of the line program. So, we are looking to get some state of the art tips for our students to fully utilize our lights and sound at Onekama School for our play.”

Harthun said what has made the cooperative play effort work so well is students from all three schools have bought into it. They are proving to be the driving force that keeps pushing the bar higher every year.

“There is so much excitement for this show and our kids are wanting more,” said Harthun.

The play is also drawing recognition from the community for their efforts over the past several years. The Manistee Association of Retired School Personnel (MARSP) gave them a grant to attend a professional performance.

“So, we want to cultivate that level of experience and take kids to a city to see a performance and give them that experience,” said Harthun. “We hope that will ‘wow’ them and make them fall in love with theater all over again. We are working on scheduling that, working on the show, the trip to Western Michigan University and keeping the Ovation Awards in the back of our minds as well.”

It shows how the students have grown in their theatrical skills is evident by the fact that students will be leading choreography this year. Harthun and Karnisz did a lot of the work in the past, but last year Barnard and Kaylan Fitch took over a few numbers.

“They took a few songs last year and just had a ball doing it,” said Harthun. “This year they wanted to make sure there were some good dance numbers and they really put in some strong numbers. We have been having dance Saturday and I watched them do a number and it was really difficult, but the kids all got it. I was wowed.”

Another area where a student has stepped forward to fill a big role was in the stage manager department. Harthun said Onekama student Kayla Feil has been doing an outstanding job in running things backstage.

What has been making things easier is most of the students have already been in several of the productions and two of them have been in all seven shows. What is even more amazing to Harthun is students like Maci Podbilski is only an eighth grader and she has been in all of the shows.

“There are things you don’t have to teach some of them because they know what to do,” said Harthun.

While some things lose their luster among students over time, the exact opposite seems to be happening according to Harthun. Their students are pushing them to do even more in their productions.

However, parental support has been vital to the success of the program over the years. Fathers taking part in the show in various capacities has brought more boys into the production this year.

“We have more boys in the show this year than we every had in the past,” said Harthun.

What has also kept the program moving forward every year is mixing up the cast with elementary, middle and high school students. The younger ones learn by example and keep up the tradition in the later years.

“This program has been a win-win for everyone and our administrators have been really supportive,” said Harthun. “In the last shows we have to be really creative where we put the younger kids.”




Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at

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