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HARVARD — Actor Brett Keating, a junior at the Bromfield School, was honored Saturday, March 27, at the 2010 Boston Globe State Drama Festival in Boston and was named to the 2010 all-state acting company.

Keating’s award was the highlight of this year’s festival for the Bromfield drama cast and crew, who made it to state finals but were not able to bring home top honors this year with their play, “Defying Gravity.”

The fun was being at the two-day event, said drama teacher Michael McGarty, who has a celebrated track record of leading Bromfield to the finals of the statewide drama competition.

McGarty said there were some tricky issues for his group’s production at Boston’s John Hancock Theater, including lighting challenges.

“We’re only given 40 minutes of actual tech time and it’s tricky. There are 30 lighting cues and I don’t know how many sound cues,” he said. “And the set itself is pretty big. You have to keep it as simple as possible.”

One of the problems the crew encountered were differences in the lighting controls, which left some critical scenes to be acted in less than optimum conditions.

“It affects the audience more than it affects the performers (but when) they’re in darkness, that’s not helpful,” said McGarty, “There was no way for them to move into light. It would have moved them out of the space they were to be in.”

Still, “the audience was enjoying it so that was a help,” he said.

From the ensemble cast of eight, one actor’s performance leapt to the judge’s attention. Keating portrayed “C.B.” – a technician and mechanic for the doomed Space Shuttle Challenger. Keating’s character provided the situational context for “Defying Gravity,” which is about the lives of people affected by the 1986 NASA disaster. McGarty said Keating’s performance was “the one that bounced off the stage.”

“For him to do what he did is phenomenal. There are kids that try forever and don’t get anything in Boston,” said McGarty. This is the second role ever for Keating, who joined McGarty’s drama program last fall.

Bromfield was the 13th of 14 schools that performed during the two-day festival — a less than ideal position that was decided by a lottery. Despite mixed commentary on the judge’s scoring cards, McGarty said his students had a wonderful weekend.

“They got to see a lot, experience a lot and make a lot of friends and that’s the whole point. To have the experience of the weekend,” said McGarty. “‘Winning’ is the last five minutes of 36 hours so it doesn’t really dampen the experience for them.”

McGarty had high praise for the support crew of 38 students, too, which hustled to assemble the set.

The festival’s clear winner was Chelmsford High School’s production of “Almost, Maine,” which placed first among productions and had four cast members named to the all-state company. Westford Academy placed second for their performance of “Chamber Music,” while Wellesley High School finished third for their production of “Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne.” Eighteen members of the Westford Academy crew were also honored for technical excellence in scenic and costume design.


McGarty’s last turn at the helm of Bromfield production before retiring this summer will be a two-act rock musical, written and scored by a 1990s alumnus of the Bromfield program. Peter Fernandez, a co-founder of the Alarm Clock Theater in Boston, wrote the play entitled “Duplex.” It’s a story set in a Somerville duplex, borrowing the setting at least from Fernandez’s current residence.

The story is about a 30-something couple who rent the abutting unit of their duplex to a 20-something couple and the interactions that arise between the neighbors.

McGarty saw Fernandez work at the Boston Center for the Arts a few years ago. “I saw the show. It’s a neat little piece but it needed work. He wrote it, wrote the music. He was wearing too many hats. He didn’t get to clean it up like he wanted to,” he said. Fernandez is retooling the music, while he and McGarty are tweaking the script.

For this production, McGarty will blend eras of actors to cross the Bromfield stages during his tenure.

“What I chose to do with this is use high-school actors and alumni because it’s a multiage piece running from teenagers up to people in their 60s” as characters.

McGarty said he had some ideas about which actors would come back for his pièce de résistance, but would not name names until he officially got them on board.

“There’s been a lot of interest. They want to read the script. It’s going to take some time,” he said. “We’ll rehearse at night but that’s not going to be a problem.”

“I’ve rarely put this many of the kids with the adults. When I do community theater, it’s mostly adults and one student,” he said. McGarty’s success spills over into community theater, too. Last year’s production of “Mistress Cycle” won the Eastern Mass. Community Theater Festival and placed second at the New England Festival.

Fernandez is not staying on board the production beyond his work on the music.

“He’s not going to music direct,” said McGarty. “He just wanted to see what I was going to do with it, which is probably better in the long run because I can do some wild things. I’m hoping he’s going to like it.”

“Duplex” will open on the Cronin Theater stage at the Bromfield School on Friday, May 21, with encore shows the following Saturday and Monday.