SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Six diverse high school productions of the Disney musical “Mary Poppins” were the subject of “I Can’t, I Have Rehearsal,” the Emmy-nominated documentary film produced by South Orange Middle School teacher Frank Guastella.
“I Can’t, I Have Rehearsal,” takes an in-depth look at how six different high schools across the state of New Jersey put together their productions of the musical “Mary Poppins.” The schools chosen were those that already had the rights to produce the musical: Rahway, Summit, Vineland, Somerville, Franklin and Union high schools.
Guastella, who is going into his 15th year as a biology teacher at SOMS, said the catalyst for his involvement in this project was a grant to PBS/NJTV for an arts documentary.
“The executive producer, Philip Alongi, and I have worked on other projects together, and he asked me if I wanted to come on board as the director of photography and editing,” Guastella said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “And with me being a teacher, he thought that I could bring a unique perspective to the table because of my creative work outside of academics.”
In addition to teaching, Guastella, aka “Frank G,” is an award-winning videographer, music producer and sound engineer. His companies, ISH Productions and Creative World Media, have provided music and visuals for many artists such as: CeeLo Green, Raekwon, Wu Tang Clan, SchoolboyQ, John Amos, Talib Kweli, Styles P, KRS-One and others. His work has also been featured on a variety of networks, including HBO, the NFL, PBS, MTV, SiriusXM and “The Today Show.”
Initially, Guastella’s creative energies were focused on music production, but his desire to learn the other aspects of the process propelled him to become familiar with videography as well.
“I was always waiting on videographers, and instead of waiting on them to get the job done I figured it would be better for me to learn it for myself,” he said. “Music production was my first passion and it allowed me to learn video production.”
For this documentary, Guastella and his team filmed rehearsals and background scenes, as well as the final productions for each school’s musical.
“It’s an apples-to-apples comparison of how each district uses different resources to pull off this monster of a show,” he said. “Some schools had significant arts budgets and were able to have elaborate backdrops and full orchestras, others had a few musicians or an iPod with music playing. The film shows that a lack of finances doesn’t mean that you can’t stage a quality production.”
In addition to filming the actual productions, the documentary also included statistics about the resources available in each school district for their productions, and Guastella said the information was enlightening for the audiences.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that art prevails, no matter where you come from, and the talent always rises to the top. It was nice to watch so many different kinds of schools and different types of arts programs come together to embolden their students to pursue their passions,” he said. “We also had involvement from Broadway actors and actresses who were alumni of the schools involved and shared their expertise in the film.”
Guastella also uses his creative talents inside the classroom, combining his love for the visual arts with science to engage his students in innovative ways.
“My knowledge of technology, video production, music and knowing how to engage people in a promotional way helps me bring that engagement to my students, whether it’s encouraging their personal creativity or trying to find a way to bring the curriculum to life in a thoughtful way,” he said. “I have to think of creative ways for them to experience some of the things in the textbook and make the textbook come alive.”
Guastella said that, in addition to the film being nominated for an Emmy Award, many of the schools highlighted in it were also nominated for the Rising Star Award, which are considered the Tony Awards of New Jersey high school musical theater.
“This morphed into something even bigger than our documentary, and it was a really fun project to be involved with. Even though I wasn’t in performance arts in high school, I was a musician and it was nice to see a lot of these talented students come away from this experience feeling better than they did going into it,” he said.