The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Olivia Brown, Sean Vigeant, Christina Higginson and Sarah Drake. Kelly Sennott photo.

See Oklahoma!

Where: Nashua High School South, 36 Riverside St., Nashua
When: Friday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 28, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $10
Contact:, 589-8597

Energizing theater
Married couple directs, choreographs Oklahoma!

By Kelly Sennott

Joel and Laura Iwaskiewicz spend their days teaching high school, their afternoons directing Oklahoma! and their nights rehearsing for Crazy for You. They go to sleep talking about theater with one another, and they wake up doing the same.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the time of their interviews, they were waist-deep in placing finishing touches for Nashua High School South’s take of Oklahoma!, which hits the stage this weekend. The largest NHSS musical in recent history, there were costume fittings to complete (plaid shirts and prairie skirts for 55 students), dances to sharpen and sets to paint. But they were totally in sync, both in vision and enthusiasm.
“I cannot fathom working with a better partner than my wife on these projects,” said Joel Iwaskiewicz. “We’re so like-minded. When we think about the kinds of experiences we hope to give the kids, our visions align so consistently.”
The pair also directed the last two Nashua High School South spring musicals together (Singin’ in the Rain two years ago, Peter Pan last year). They chose this title with fellow Nashua English teacher/producer Greg Montine, because it hadn’t been done recently in the area and because they had the kids to fill the roles. They had great actors and singers, yes, but this year’s cast is also filled with fantastic dancers, perfect for the play’s 13-minute-long ballet sequence.
Often times in Oklahoma! — the first collaboration by Rodgers and Hammerstein, in 1943 — this dance scene gets watered down, particularly in youth and community theater productions. 
“But Laura has an amazing group. The girl who plays Laurey in the dream ballet is one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen, and she’s been studying for over a decade. To watch her dance her solo onstage, you’d think it was a professional show,” Joel Iwaskiewicz said.
In fact, the pair gave this dancer, senior Olivia Brown, free rein. Brown, who plans to study dance in college and currently practices about 16 hours a week, choreographed the solo herself.
“It’s nice because I’m not much of a singer or an actor, but I’ve really loved doing the shows in the past,” Brown said, stretching before a rehearsal. It was a week and a half before showtime, and she was wearing one of her costumes: a floor-length navy dress lined with lace. “Most of the time I’m at dance, so I don’t have a lot of time for school things. It’s really nice to be able to come in and be a part of something like this.”
Some students were skeptical about Oklahoma! Even though it’s a classic, many were unfamiliar with the plot beforehand. 
One of those students was 16-year-old Christina Higginson. Once she gave the show a chance, she found Oklahoma! was filled with plot twists and interesting storylines.
“And the characters — there’s more to them than I thought there would be,” Higginson said. “Oklahoma! sounds like an old, not as exciting musical … It didn’t sound like something I would have chosen to see before I knew what it was about. But now that I do, I think the plot is interesting and the music challenging.”
She plays leading lady Laurey, who is stuck between two guys — Curly and Jud — and has been working closely with Joel Iwaskiewicz to understand her character’s motives, actions, flaws and attributes.
“[The Iwaskiewiczs] have this real passion,” said 17-year-old Sean Vigeant, who plays Curly. On this day, he wore his character’s red cowboy shirt and hat. “They get us engaged and excited about the show. I also think how they speak to us is different — they don’t demean, but they still keep an authority.”
The Iwaskiewiczs have been either thinking or actively working on the show since last year. When this is over, they may relax for a week or so, but they’ll soon need to focus on their next endeavor: Crazy for You with the Nashua Actorsingers in May, in which they play romantic leads opposite one another. It won’t be the first time, but it will be the first time that (spoiler alert) it works out for their characters onstage. They work hard to squeeze in as much theater as possible between day jobs — he teaches English at NHSS, she music at Pinkerton.
“We’ll admit it’s a little manic, but when we are involved in a creative process together, as much as it does exhaust, we also find it’s so energizing,” Joel Iwaskiewicz said.
Just as long as they can do it together.
“We met doing theater, so that’s always been a part of our relationship,” Laura Iwaskiewicz said. (In fact, it was during the Actorsingers’ take of Guys and Dolls. ) “There was one fall a couple of years ago — he was doing Batboy in Manchester, I was in Pirates of Penzance in Nashua — and we’d literally pass each other on the highway. We just didn’t get to see each other as much. … After that, we decided we would go after theatrical endeavors we could do together. And now that we’re married, it’s even more important.” 
As seen in the March 26, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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