Ranked to Premiere in May


Students during Ranked filming process. Credit to Marissa Barnathan and @fss_theater on Instagram.

Ranked, Friends Select’s 2021 spring Upper School musical, will premier in May with a small viewing party in the theatre. It is currently being filmed and edited and will be projected on the screen. The musical was not initially made for Zoom. However, many high schools have adapted it to the Zoom-world during the pandemic. 

The plot is a semi-dystopian story about a high school in which students are ranked by their grades, subsequently affecting their self-esteem. Drama Department Chair Donna Romero adds, “Although FSS does not have these practices, it is about the pressures teens face around academics and family life and priorities in high school,” which is something many students can relate to. The script is filled with cautionary tales around privilege, classism, relationships, and friendships. 

Donna first found the musical in a theater Facebook group where other drama teachers recommended it for online adaptations. After looking into Ranked a bit more, she pitched it to Director Marissa Barnathan and Music Teacher Nathan Wadley. Donna and Marissa both expressed how fantastic the songs were on the soundtrack. Marissa added that she “has loved this soundtrack from when [she] first heard it, so for [her, she is] most excited for our students to hear and learn these songs.” 

“I’m such a big fan of the script and I think it is really well cast — I saw the characters come to life even in the first read-through,” said stage manager May Colgan ’23. 

The script is written about high schoolers specifically, another pro for Donna and Marissa, as FSS has not done a production about high schoolers in recent years. According to Marissa, it allows the cast to look within themselves and relate more personally to their roles. 

Technical Theater Director Max Budnick describes his role as Technical Director and a video editor: “In terms of lighting, setting, and props, these are all issues that need to be addressed via Zoom. Therefore rather than building a set, we are ensuring that each actor has good light on them while they are being recorded.”

Max adds that Deandra Witt, who works with admissions, has been “crafting specific Zoom backgrounds that relate to each actor and each scene,” and Lower School Steam Librarian Allison Frick has worked on costumes and props. 

Nandi Bayard ’24 is playing three roles, Maddy, Maya, and Jayden, in different ways: “Maddy and Jayden are both students who are ‘above the average,’ meaning they get good grades. Despite this, there is still an incredible amount of pressure on them to maintain these grades and excel in all of their classes.” Nandi relates to this as she “understands the constant pressure from teachers, parents, and even peers for you to excel at everything.” 

Nandi also relates to her third role, Maya, who is a “below average” student. “She (Maya) often feels out of place in an environment where she can’t relate to most of the students. I can also connect with Maya because as a Black girl going to a primarily white school, I also feel out of place. I often can’t relate to many of my white peers, and sometimes feel excluded or out of place when there aren’t other black students in my classes,” Nandi says.

Early on in the process of rehearsals, Annalise Dicicco ’23 shared her eagerness to delve into her role, saying “I’m really excited to drive deeper past surface-level topics with my character, it’s exciting to be able to explore that with my fellow actors.”

Although many cast members would have preferred an in-person production, some have found silver-linings. Annalise says, “we are all disappointed it can’t be in person, however, it gives us an opportunity to nail things. If something goes wrong, we can refilm, when it’s live there are no redos.” 

May is cautious yet excited by the new challenges presented by the Zoom format, saying: “most of my previous tech theater experience has been in person, lights, mic, coordinating, so having it be online is much more of a learning curve for me.” 

Nandi brings a new perspective, being a freshman in her first year at FSS. “Throughout our rehearsals, I’ve learned some new things about technology, and come to terms with the fact that the final performance is going to look much different than if it were to be a normal year. It did take some time to adjust and learn how to do things differently, but I’m enjoying the process because I still get to sing, dance, and act,” she says.

While many cast members and teacher-leaders were initially nervous and expected bumps in the road, they stayed optimistic. Upon the first readthrough,”the chemistry was so great… even online — it was great. It’s a smaller cast but it’s a strong cast,” says Donna. She also notes that the combination of veterans and new students creates a nice dynamic.

Another exciting aspect of the musical this year is its involvement with HBO. Since Ranked has been so widely popular across high schools in America, HBO started making a documentary about its creation and success. However, the filming was shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, just in time for Friends Select’s production, they have started back up. They requested a few musical numbers from any school that was actively working on this musical. Friends Select was chosen, among several other schools, to be featured in HBO’s upcoming documentary. 

Donna and Marissa bring their experience from last year’s virtual musical to the table this year. Marissa says that in the past, she has tried to present Zoom plays as if they are on stage, but that just hasn’t worked how it was intended. However, she notes, “it is easier with plays that have been adapted for online performances (as Ranked has) rather than trying to reinvent things. We have leaned into the idea that we are on Zoom and don’t pretend we are on stage.”