Mysteries behind the Curtain: A behind the scenes look at the Dobbs Ferry Theater Productions

Ava Neumaier, Staff Writer

The heavy crimson curtains swing open with a soft swish as high above, the spotlight focuses on the stage. The first set is already in place, a beautiful painting of wherever Scene 1 takes place. The music begins, building to a crescendo and then crashing down as the first actors begin to file onto the stage. The audience is silent, observing, watching, spellbound by the music, the lighting, the choreography, and the sets, all of which are done by middle school and high school chorus teacher Mrs. DeFalco, who juggles a thousand hats to produce amazing plays and musicals at Dobbs Ferry Middle School and High School every year.

And with two new productions in the works for spring 2018, one must wonder; how does she do so much, and where do such captivating performances come from?  

“I look to see what I did [for the previous musical] and try to do something different,” the chorus teacher told me. Georgia DeFalco, who has an undergraduate degree in music education from the University of Illinois and a Masters Degree in theater education from City College, joined the DFS staff in 2012 from Midtown Manhattan’s High School for Environmental Studies, where she taught Vocal Music as the Theatre Arts Director. Mrs. DeFalco casts, choreographs, composes, and dresses all of her productions, along with being one of the main coordinators of the annual Dobbs Ferry’s Got Talent show. Her actors and and actresses work hard, coming to the plethora of rehearsals during production, learning songs and choreography before, after, and in the free spots between school hours to eventually produce showstoppers that every grade talks about for days after.

But according to her, it wasn’t always such a deeply devotional experience for students.

“When I came to the school, I remember the attendance in the plays was really low, and so I tried to do more… to get people to come to the plays… and I think we’ve turned it around,” she recalled modestly as chorus members milled about the chorus room. For last year’s high school play, The Addams Family, she even cast two football players for a couple scenes to attract the sports crowd. “A lot of people came just to see the two football players!” she laughed. If you aren’t a singer but want to participate, you can do so as well – as a set and props designer, part of the lighting crew, or as a costume coordinator! There’s a place for everyone, whether on the stage or behind it.

“It’s three times the work to put on a musical instead of a play. The acting, singing, dancing, the costumes [and] the sets are usually more elaborate,” DeFalco said. “It’s definitely cheaper to put on a play than a musical,” she added with a laugh. So far, she’s done over a dozen musicals and even more plays, with a new one of each currently in the works: Urinetown is a comedic musical in which the inhabitants of a town must pay to relieve themselves, and Actor’s Nightmare is a one-act play where a man is forced to be the understudy in a part he had no rehearsal for.  

“I think it’s nice to expose people to different musicals instead of the ones they know,” she added. Even though many of her productions are unique and relatively unknown, she has also done many memorable ones, including Oklahoma, My Fair Lady and The Music Man. The posters of each performance she’s done adorn the chorus room walls from years previous, many inspired by her own performance experiences.

“I did a lot of musicals [when I was younger],” Mrs. DeFalco remembered, revealing that many of the musicals that she performed in her youth she did at Dobbs Ferry Middle and High School. “I love them, and that’s why I do them here,” she said. The musicals in question include Carousel, Chorus Line, and Little Shop Of Horrors, among many more.

Mrs. DeFalco also revealed that most of her ideas for plays and musicals come from social media. “I’ll go on and I’ll see what other schools are doing for one act plays,” she explained. “You can find anything online.”

Mrs. DeFalco seeks out the Jr. musical companies, the ones that produce middle school-appropriate performances. “I’ve called them and said, ‘Send me your most popular ones.’” The majority of her costumes also come from the internet, most specifically Amazon, though she also has her students bring in outfits from home. Mrs. DeFalco is also in need of a student costume director. “Anybody who loves clothes and has their own closet really organized, that’s all you really need to do — and to love theater, too!”  So when Actor’s Nightmare and Urinetown hit the stage this Spring, make sure you go and support not only the actors, but also the work occurring behind the curtain, up in the spotlight box and down in the Pit. And if you’re truly taken with the theater life, you can participate in the incredible experience of being a part of one of Mrs. DeFalco’s epic productions. “Everyone in the class can be in the play!” She announced. Rest assured the multi-faceted chorus teacher will continue to produce musicals and plays for many years to come.