A! Magazine for the Arts

Students rehearse "Ranked."

Students rehearse "Ranked."

Tennessee High School presents 'Ranked'

February 26, 2023

Tennessee High School’s spring musical, “Ranked,” is drawn from the headlines. Debuting just weeks after the college admissions scandal news,“Ranked”tells the story of a dystopian world where competition reaches new heights as publicized academic excellence defines each student’s worth. In the face of an intense culture of performance, Lily must come to grips with her place in the status quo as she watches friends and enemies alike destroy themselves and each other to score their way to the top of academic leaderboards. When an impossible lie is discovered, the fate of these students’ futures hangs in the balance.

Since debuting in April of 2018,“Ranked”has been produced and further developed by the University of California, Davis, has been licensed by over75schools across the United States, Canada, England and China and is the subject of the HBO documentary“My So-Called High School Rank.”

Performances are March 31 and April 1 at 7 p.m. and April 2 at 2 p.m., in the school’s auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. They can be purchased at www.tennesseehs.booktix.com.

“One of the hardest things each year is choosing the musical. We always strive to choose something that is fun but also something that can teach our kids in some way. This year I happened across this musical in a social media forum for theater teachers. Once I read the story on how and why it was created, I immediately listened to the music. I sent it to our choir director, and we locked it in,” says Amber Davis, director of the musical.

Since Davis and Jason Whitson, art teacher and chorus director, began the program, Tennessee High has produced six musicals: “Willy Wonka,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Xanadu,” “Back to the ‘80s” and now “Ranked.”

Producing a musical is a group effort among theater, choir, band, art, graphic design and construction departments.

“We have a cast of 19 this year, but once we begin building the set, rehearsing with the band, designing programs, etc., we’ll have around 40 to 50 students from multiple areas helping with various aspects of production,” Davis says. Davis and Whitson design the sets, and students help to build them. They also have outside help from friends and family, Martin Robinette, Don Fritz, Dave Lindsay and Jameson Davis just to name a few.

Students will each invest about 100 hours of their time, and Whitson and Davis will spend 150 hours each for rehearsals and performances. This time doesn’t include set building, clerical work, preparation and attention to the myriad details that a musical requires – including raising the funds to produce the show.

“The musicals are financed through student fundraisers. Our drama club puts on a Haunted Tours every other year which is a huge fundraiser. We also make money from ad sales for fall and spring programs. These are our main two fundraisers, but we do several smaller ones each year as well,” Davis says.

However, Davis believes that all this hard work is worth it for what the students gain from the experience.

“Students learn to work together as a team, often with others whom they don’t normally spend time with.Being able to work with others is a valuable skill that’s highly sought after by colleges and employers.They learn to balance school, work, sports and rehearsals. They learn to prioritize and take their commitments seriously. Through their characters they learn empathy, compassion and understanding.They learn to dance and sing at the same time. They learn breath control. They learn to make mistakes and accept constructive criticism. Their self-esteem grows by leaps and bounds. Sometimes their attendance gets better at school. I could probably talk for hours about the benefits in participating in the arts,” she says.

One of the priorities they use when choosing a show is performance opportunities for students. “Ranked” has nine leads.

This year’s cast includes Alexa Henard (sophomore). She was part of the ensemble in “Back to the ‘80s” in her freshman year.She is in Madrigals, and she played multiple characters in “A Night Under the Stars” last semester in theater arts.

Skye Myers (senior) has been in THS’s musicals all four years of her high school career, and this is her second lead role. She is in Madrigals, and she was Taylor in the play “A Night Under the Stars” last semester.

Brian Alley (senior) is enjoying his first part in a musical.

Addison Ray (junior) is in her second musical at Tennessee High School. She played Cyndi in last year’s musical, “Back to the ‘80s,”and she played multiple characters in the play “A Night Under the Stars” last semester in theater arts.

Sean Edwards (sophomore) played Michaelin last year’s musical, “Back to the ‘80s”and is a member of Madrigals.

Claire Hankins (senior) is a member of Madrigals, and she played Lorraine in “All Shook Up” her sophomore year.

Anna Shelley (senior) is a member of Madrigals. She was in the ensemble of “Xanadu” her freshman year. She then went on to pay Matilda in “All Shook Up,” Eileen in “Back to the ‘80s,” and she played Clarkein the play “A Night Under the Stars.”

Nathaniel Rush (junior) is a member of Madrigals, and he stepped in to play Corey Sr. in last year’s, “Back to the ‘80s.”

Halle Mullins (junior) played Debbie in “Back to the ‘80s” last year, and she’s a member of Madrigals.

These students agree with Davis that all the hard work is worth it.

“What I love about the whole experience is that you connect with your character; you know their feelings, and you know the other characters’ feelings. You also get to connect with those around you. It’s a bond that feels like it can’t be broken. Musicals bring out the joy and fun in our lives. When we know we are getting to perform, and do what we live, if feels like those exciting butterflies in your stomach. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe but it’s wonderful,” says Myers.

“What I love about the musical experience is the connection you develop not only with your peers but with your character. You get to live so many different lives and every character has something new for you to learn.I just feel like this really aids you in life when you are forming relationships with people, and I love it,” says Addison Ray.

“The community! I love getting to sing and dance and act across from the people that I love. Getting the opportunity to express myself on stage is incredible, but getting to do that with people that bring me joy? That’s the best of all,” says Claire Hankins.

“Something I love about being in musicals is how supportive the rest of the cast is — even when you mess up,” says Alexa Henard.

Davis sums it all up by saying, “If you can support your local high school theater either financially or through donations of costumes, makeup, time, etc., please do. These kids are grateful for every tiny thing they receive. If you can’t donate, please consider just coming to watch what they have worked so hard to create. It’s awesome when their parents and teachers come, but when the community supports them, wow.”