Carmel Catholic High School is set to launch its annual fundraising and entertainment event called Street Scenes, an extravaganza that organizers say is a year in the making.
From picking a theme to auditioning cast for its student-run production, Street Scenes requires countless hours by students and parent volunteers to ensure it runs smoothly.
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And each year, their work pays off, raising millions of dollars for the school's general fund, helping keep tuition down and providing necessary resources, organizers say.
The two-day event, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 14-15, features the famous Student Shows, several other show venues with volunteer performers, food and drink, and a Saturday night casino that includes craps, roulette and blackjack tables.
Helping to run the production is chairman Dan Kerkman, who joined Street Scenes in 1990 and is still involved as it marks its 40th anniversary.
"It's wonderful to see it's stayed fresh enough to continue to be successful year after year," Kerkman said.
"I also see it's important for the health of the Carmel community because it gets people to know one another, meet new folks involved with the school, and become involved in new ways with the school to the benefit of the students."
As this year's "A Salute to the Troops" theme was announced last March, work was beginning on the student show, said director Denise Sebastiano, who's been involved six years.
Tryouts began to choose the cast and volunteers started work on costume design and set construction.
"Once this starts running, it's zoom, zoom," said Gail Wegener, who coordinates costumes.
The 2014 production will mimic a USO show that takes the audience back to World War II and wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Boys will portray men at war longing for their home and loved ones; girls will showcase those who had to go to work to help their country.
"We're incorporating Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller as our emcees. The kids obviously have no idea who they are, but we do," Sebastiano said.
Working behind the scenes is the tech crew, made up of students who plan every element from lighting to designing sets. Working as the lighting designer, senior Brandon Liden of Mundelein said he studies what color will work with costumes and what is needed to make the audience feel what the actor is feeling.
"It's a 3-D show, but the lighting makes the fourth dimension. You can feel the emotion sitting there," Liden said.
Stage manager Elyse Johnson said students spend a lot of time practicing, but they love it.
"We have so much we're doing. We're busy at all times, but we're all enjoying each other's company," said Johnson, a junior from North Chicago.
Onstage, there are 44 students who bring the USO show to life with performances that include 45 songs. More than 100 students auditioned. Dancer Corinne Hart said cast rehearsals began in August, with students staying late to learn choreography, working with the singers and practicing with the musicians.
"We stack up all the different elements on top of each other. You really start to see the show piece together. It's really cool to see how your dancing can be one part of the whole production," said Hart, a senior.
Will Higgins, a senior from Grayslake in his third year as a singer, said he hopes the audience will feel the emotion behind the show.
"This show has emotional numbers, especially toward the end. There's a couple numbers, one called 'Imagine' by John Lennon and another is called 'Hero.' Those really tug at your heartstrings," Higgins said.
"It's not too sad. The show ends on a positive note and is fun and energetic, but there are moments when it really calls to the attention we should give to our troops."
Student director Annie Lentino said working on Street Scenes' show is a different theatrical experience because she gives feedback to those who have performed before at Carmel, as well as athletes and student council members who get involved.
"It's cool to see all these different people come together to put on the show," said Lentino of Libertyville.
Many adults, such as Wegener and co-chair Tomi O'Reilly, started volunteering in the early 1990s and are still involved even though their children graduated years ago. O'Reilly said adults want to pass on good values and working collaboratively, and they love to be around the kids.
The student show will not be the only entertainment at Street Scenes. Carmel will feature more than 30 rooms of show venues with entertainers who volunteer their time to perform.
Carmel crews also work behind the scenes to transform the school into a casino on Saturday night. A service licensed by the state provides the apparatus, including craps, roulette and blackjack tables. Kerkman said a pit boss from the company trains the adult volunteers who run games.
One new element will be a car raffle and silent auction of items, with proceeds directed to tuition assistance. Raffle tickets can be purchased now. Tickets cost $50 each, three for $125 and will be limited to 500 tickets maximum. Participants can get updates on their smartphone if they are outbid on their item and can then rebid.
To transform Carmel into this big party requires a large effort. Students and volunteers decorate the hallways and remove classroom furniture so stages, sound and lighting equipment can be moved in.
While Street Scenes' focus is fun, Kerkman said the theme also will pay tribute to the military. He said the alumni association will show photos of alumni who serve in the military.
"Supporting the troops, I think a lot of people will come away with a good feeling about that," Kerkman said.