There’s a new director in town


Kaleigh Ceci

Jeff Mentzer, director of the CHS music Little Shop of Horrors.

The Canfield Players Drama Club are experiencing a new change in their upcoming 2018-2019 season.

After the news of Dr. Heikkinen’s retirement after 19 years of directing, the students were saddened but eager to find out who would be filling her shoes. When the rumors of resident light, sound, and head of run crew, Jeff Mentzer would be filling the position the students couldn’t have been more thrilled.

“It’s different but I think in the long run the program will benefit from the guidelines he’s set.  In past years it’s been really lax with attendance, especially in the crew, and if we set a better precedent it will help benefit the program for beyond our years here.” said Grace Schuler, this year’s musical stage manager. 

Dr. Heikkinen said, “Oh I’m excited for him, I think it’s really nice to have someone young and enthusiastic with lots of energy, and I think he’ll do a great job!”

When talking to Dr. Heikkinen about her experience directing, her face just beams with all of the memories. One of her favorite productions she put on was the classic musical, Les Miserables.

“We were the first school in Ohio to do it.  We had a great group of kids. It was 2006, there were so many talented kids that were so connected and such good friends. They were just a pleasure to be around,” said Heikkinen.

She even mentioned how she had to double cast some of the roles for that show because of the amount of talent she had that year. One of her favorite things about directing was as she said, “Getting to know kids outside the guidance office.  It gave me another connection to get to know them on a deeper and better level. The nature of my job as a counselor is to see kids for schedules but a lot of the time it’s when they are having an issue or a problem and I do enjoy that, but on the flip side I loved watching them when they were excited and doing what they loved.”

How is Dr. Heikkinen doing with retirement? According to her, she can’t believe that she is able to leave the schools at three in the afternoon.

“I worried that I would be really overwhelmed like ‘Oh I can’t believe I gave this up, I should still be doing it,’” she said.

All in all, she will miss the activity, but is grateful that she now has the opportunity to spend time with her grandchildren at their sporting events.

Mentzer, on the other hand, has never directed before, but is up to the challenge. His theatre journey began in the seventh grade when the middle school was putting on the production, The Music Man.

Mentzer said, “All my friends wanted to do crew so I decided I’d try it too, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I graduated high school in 2010 and I’m still here.”

So Mentzer officially became Canfield Players head of crew after he graduated CHS in 2010: “I was always a behind the scenes kind of guy. I had done theater tech in middle school and that’s what I continued to do in high school. There’s been good and bad times, but I can say that yes I’m still here, so it worked out in the end and I’m still enjoying it. I enjoy spending time with the students and getting to mentor them a little bit here and there. I’ve done that up until last year when I started doing the assistant directing position with Dr. H.”

The position of directing, however, was never one of Mentzer’s goals when working with Canfield Players: “It was originally never on my agenda whatsoever and Dr. H asked me last year if I would be interested because she wanted to retire. I said that I would give it a try and everything went pretty well. I decided that I was going to attempt to do the directing position this year and that’s how I fell into it and so far so good.”

Mentzer, however, is not alone on his directing journey. Returning to the team is choreographer Danielle Sainato,  music/orchestra conductor Kelly Scurich, and newcomer Tyler Moliterno.

“I’m excited to work with our new assistant director Tyler Moliterno.  He is very good at what he does. He’s been doing theater for a long time, and he’s a great addition to the work team.  I think it’s exciting for the students as well because it’s a whole different can of worms. It’s just a different feel and vibe with what we have going so far. I want to keep traditions.  I know there’s a lot of things that have happened in the past that I’d like to keep going with different activities.  I know one of the favorites is that before the show starts the cast members they write a skit and then the director writes a skit so that’s just something little that I’d like to keep doing. I think it’s fun for the students and for us directors to try and come up with something to write and say about the kids.  We want to do some different fundraisers, trying to do the twenty four hours theater as opposed to the synergy fundraiser which was nice but just trying to go a different route trying to get some money into the program for us,” said Mentzer. 

Grace Schuler, a senior at Canfield High School, has worked closely with Mentzer, probably more than any other current student at Canfield. She started out in theatre her freshman year when she worked backstage in the run crew, (where people run props onto the stage in between scenes) for the show Mary Poppins.

“I knew at one point I wanted to work my way up to the position of stage manager because I wanted to be the one giving the directions and knowing about everything and being in change.  Now I’m a second year stage manager,” said Schuler.

She describes being stage manager as challenging and stressful, but fun. Considering Mentzer had been head of crew for several years before Schuler, Mentzer showed her the ropes and they have been working closely with each other ever since: “It’s like a love/hate relationship.  Last year he’d come back and yell at us when something didn’t look right and I’d be so mad. Then five minutes later he’d be like ‘did you get food? Are you doing okay?’ It’s great for the most part.  Everyone gets stressed so it’s not always going to be fun but when you put in all that hard work and you get to watch the show happen knowing that you’ve done your job, that’s the most fun part of working with him because he sets up that ability to have fun.”

Moving forward, Schuler would like to give Mentzer a little word of advice: “Be patient with everyone.  All the crew and the freshman and himself too because this is a new experience for him.  He needs to take it slow and figure it all out and not be hard on himself if it doesn’t go perfectly.  But I think he’s going to be fine. Just chill out buddy!”

Will Mentzer continue to direct beyond this show?

“It’s been a great experience so far. There’s a lot of work to do, a lot of behind the scenes work. Just administrative wise with paperwork, filling out forms, trying to arrange everything, setting dates, and scheduling. It’s a lot. But this far it’s gone well so if everything continues to go that way I plan on continuing into next year.”

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors will hit the stage on November 16, 17, and 18. They will also have a 48-hour theatre fundraiser on Saturday, October 13 at 7 p.m. Both of these events will take place in the Canfield High School auditorium.