The O’Neal Players will be performing Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr. this weekend for the School’s annual musical. Though the lower school students were unable to be included this year, due to the COVID-19 protocols, students from the Middle and Upper Schools are ready to perform! This event will mark the fifth annual all-school musical in recent years.
Though fairly new to most of us Falcons, O’Neal is not a stranger to musicals. In fact, to end the first school year, students performed Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the Cardinal Room of the Pinehurst Hotel on May 31st. Of the three teachers employed that first year, Miss Gina Bikales had a strong fine arts background and was thrilled to direct it. By sheer coincidence, the production was performed again, this time in O’Neal’s theater, in 2018.
Looking from the outside into the area’s local culture, Miss Bikales reflects on the first production. “Since both Bob (Haarlow) and I are MidWesterners, we always started and stopped on time. The show, which was in Cantata form, ran about 30 minutes in length. We advertised the curtain time and began on time. Little did we know that no one would actually arrive on time. We played to a small crowd, as people drifted in at their own pleasure. We vowed never to start on time again. So much to learn.”
Miss Bikales taught at O’Neal for only the first year. “I still remember our rehearsals, and how eagerly the kids worked on their music,” she recalls. “It was such a treat to be able to teach at O’Neal. Some of my happiest memories are those of my year spent in Southern Pines.”
Annual musicals continued in the 1970s. In fact, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown performed in the “then new” Tate Gymnasium in 1976 was again revisited in O’Neal’s theater as the first of recent all-school musicals in 2017.
Theater and Film
Musicals are not the only theatrical performances that O’Neal claims. Plays have also been a regular event within the school year throughout O’Neal’s existence. The construction of the Hannah Marie Bradshaw Activities Center, and more importantly the 250-seat theater within it, was a turning point for performing arts at O’Neal. For ten years up until his passing, O’Neal’s drama and Spanish teacher Michael Norman, often called “Señor”, directed annual plays with upper school students. Although most of the plays ranged from murder mysteries to comedies, the first performance in the theater was Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in 2010.
Active in the community, high school, and regional theatre productions, the late Michael Norman’s last O’Neal directed play was It’s Only a Play in 2019. Other O’Neal directing credits include: The Curious Savage, The Importance of Being Ernest, Harvey, The Mousetrap, Par for the Corpse, The Foreigner, The Odd Couple (Female Version), The Murder Room, Much Ado About Nothing, and A Night of Comic Shorts.
Michael also started the process of entering O’Neal students into the local English Speaking Union’s annual Shakespeare monologue competition. Josh Wolonick ’08 was one of Michael’s students whom he coached for the competition and also directed him in community productions put on by the Sandhills Theatre Company, before O’Neal’s theater opened. “Señor was a mentor to me and so was Vinny Healy, the film class instructor,” says Josh. “The two of them were great friends and at O’Neal, though there was a line, you often became friends with your teachers. My relationship with them was an introduction to actually having a friendship with an adult.”
Vinny Healy taught a film class as well as English in the Upper School in addition to coaching Track and Field…and winning a state championship. The film class hosted a film festival and Josh produced Par at Dusk, shot on a golf course and Michael was his villain. “There were no survivors,” reflects Josh. “It was ‘the film’ of the festival.”
Josh graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and he attributes all the AP credits he earned at O’Neal for allowing him to double major in English and dramatic arts as well as minor in creative writing. Off to New York he went and was an actor for seven years. From the well-known soap opera All My Children to commercials and plays, Josh comments, “It was fun being a part of the hustle but eventually I found myself as a financial journalist and then a financial analyst in relation to the entertainment industry.”
With a new direction, Josh decided to get his MBA at the University of Southern California and is living in Los Angeles. He also is an intern working distribution at Filmnation, a film production and international sales company.
“My single most important experience of my high school years is O’Neal’s willingness to sponsor me for theater at Governor’s School,” says Josh. “I had the choice of English or theater and even though O’Neal didn’t really have a theater program at the time, the School still sponsored me.” Josh continued to teach theater in the summers at Governor’s School 2013 -2019.
Jenna Burns ’19 is a sophomore at Boston University College of Fine Arts. Representing O’Neal, Jenna won the local ESU competition in 2018 and traveled to Lincoln Center Theater in New York City to compete against 53 other finalists for the national title. She reflects on her time here at O’Neal. “If it weren’t for the arts program at O’Neal, I would not have had the confidence to pursue theatre in college. During my time at O’Neal, I was fortunate enough to work on multiple productions including the One Act Play Festival in the Fall, the new addition of the Winter musical, and the Spring play. A huge factor in my interest in theatre came from Michael Norman. He fostered my love of theatre and encouraged me to challenge myself in whatever work I was doing. He introduced me to Shakespeare, and along with him and the School’s participation in the English Speaking Union Shakespeare Competition, my love for theatre grew even more. Through that competition and Mr. Norman’s support of me throughout my years of competing helped me gain more confidence in my artistry.”
Theater continues to grow at O’Neal with the addition of the fall “One Act” performances and the fifth grade play.
From the lower school group, “The O’Nealers” to the Upper School Chorus, music by way of song continues to thrive – particularly when there is not a pandemic to deal with. As a part of the School’s curriculum, all lower school students have music class and middle school is introduced to a combination of music and theater which can continue as an elective in the Upper School. Though, O’Neal once offered band and even “strings”, the interest faded. Today, the idea of learning musical instruments is being re-introduced not only with recorders in fourth grade but also guitars in seventh grade as well as other opportunities along the way.
The O’Neal Community has always valued the performing arts, to the point of sponsoring theatrical groups to perform in other places in the community, to hosting the North Carolina Symphony “Pops” Concert under the pines. The arts are about communication, the creation of a vision, and are a method of understanding the world. The arts require planning, collaboration, perseverance, and courage. O’Neal’s performing arts classes provide students a place to hone these skills. O’Neal students have almost immediate access to so much information, so what becomes important is how that knowledge is pulled together, presented, and shared. The arts support that synthesis.
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388