Pilgrim High School student Elizabeth Bierenday shook things up for her senior project. As someone who’s always been passionate about the arts, Bierenday decided to take a leap and meet graduation requirements by directing her first play this fall.
Richard Dennigham, Pilgrim’s drama teacher, said in his seven-year tenure at the school, no other student has done something like this for their senior project.
Over the summer, Bierenday contacted Denningham to see if her directorial debut would be possible. He said it would. Together they pored over scripts and discussed the best way to go about making Bierenday’s idea a reality.
Eventually, Bierenday and Denningham settled on “You Can’t Take it With You,” a Kaufman and Hart comedy about a young couple and their vastly contrasting families.
Bierenday said she chose “You Can’t Take it With You” because it fit the means of Pilgrim’s theater program. Normally the school stages a musical in the fall, but this year they swapped it with a play so Bierenday could finish her requirements on time.
Fortunately, Bierendey and Denningham completed their mentor hours together before the citywide changes to the senior project went into effect. Because of this, Bierenday was prepared to take the reigns of the show, something that Denningham said she did with flying colors.
“She took charge of it,” said Denningham. “She put her own spin on it.”
No stranger to the stage, Bierenday said it was exciting to have the opportunity to cast a show, something she had always been on the other side of the table for. Bierenday said she had to let go of her preconceived notions on casting day – she couldn’t rely on what she knew about the actors’ abilities and instead had to hone in on what they showed her that day. Still, though it wasn’t entirely easy, she said she liked the responsibility.
Once the cast was in place, Bierenday began running rehearsals. She met with the cast three times a week for seven weeks, starting in mid-September.
"The whole thing was pretty challenging," she said, explaining that making so many decisions and finding the right ways to get the actors to do what she envisioned was tricky.
But all of her hard work paid off last month when the play had three successful performances.
“The most rewarding thing was seeing it come together in the end,” she said.
Bierenday said the actors’ energy during the performances surprised her, and that she was proud of them.
“They were fantastic,” she said.
Denningham said Bierenday’s solid work as a director showed during the performances.
“The show came off well,” he said. “The kids had a good understanding of their roles.”
Although Bierenday enjoyed directing and has dabbled in performance, her true passion is visual art.
"I am just in love with art," said Bierenday, who is busy completing a mural at Pilgrim – the same mural that caused a swirl of controversy earlier in the year for depicting a traditional marriage and wedding rings.
Bierenday said she plans to study art in college, while continuing to pursue drama and the performing arts in the future.