From Mac to ZACH

With 11 of McCallum's finest in its cast, ZACH Theatre's 'Feedback' had to be a good Knight of musical theatre


Gregory James

BLEACHER GIRLS: Sophomore Isabela Diago sings part of "You belong with me" by Taylor Swift. The piece was paired with the A/B dance company of the ZACH PPC.

Gregory James, photo editor

The ZACH Theatre Pre-Professional Company, or PPC, held its annual showcase performance on the weekends of May 17-19 and May 24-26. The cast, which was comprised of middle school and high school actors from the greater Austin area, included 11 McCallum actors: Lilah Guaragna, Lila Grace Plummer, Aydan Howinson, Hannah Hufford, Helena Laing, Owen George Scales, Abigail Lerma, Isabela Diago, Emma Wallace, Amelia Paul and Sophia Mullican in the production.


View this post on Instagram


FROM MAC TO ZACH: Members of the Zach Theatre Pre-Professional Company performed the second performance of its spring showcase, “Feedback: Too Loud to Ignore,” a medley of pop songs and songs of revolt that at their core challenge the social issues of today. Among the issues sung about were trivial matter like teenage relations all the way to serious social issues like gun violence at schools and hate and war around the world. Eleven of the show’s performers were @macfinearts Academy theatre majors: (2) sophomore Isabela Diago, freshman Lila Plummer and sophomore Emma Wallace(3) junior Owen Scales, (4) freshman Lila Plummer, (5) senior Hannah Hufford, (6) junior Abigail Lerma, (7) sophomore Helena Lang, (8) junior Amelia Paul, (9) junior Lilah Guaragna, sophomore Aydan Howinson, (10) senior Sophia Mullican and (not pictured) freshman Alysa Spiro. #dayinthelifeatmac #zachtheateraustin @zachtheatre

A post shared by McCallum Journalism (@macjournalism) on

The show Feedback was a musical filled with an assortment of songs that had messages but all touched on the theme of rebellion and expressed a young perspective on world events. The McCallum actors in this show ranged in experience from seasoned veterans such as Hannah Hufford, Owen Scales and Lilah Guaragna, to newcomers such as Isabela Diago and Lila Grace Plummer.

For Diago, the showcase was her first show with the PPC. The rising junior hopes to continue to act in more ZACH Theatre performances. She was cast last week in the vocal ensemble for Mac Theatre’s fall musical production, Jekyll and Hyde.

Everybody’s really friendly, and it was a family.”

— Isabela Diago on her first ZACH Theatre experience

“It was really fun, and I wasn’t really in a lot of numbers,” Diago said. “I enjoyed having a fun time with my friends. It was a really cool experience.”

The ZACH Theatre PPC is a program for middle and high school students that works to train students in dance and theater education and is a close-knit group. For Diago, this family atmosphere was apparent from the get go.

“Everybody’s really friendly, and it was a family,” Diago said.  “The first rehearsal I felt really welcomed and it was really nice.”

For veterans of both MAC Theatre and ZACH PPC like Owen Scales, Lilah Guaragna and Amelia Paul, the show was not their first rodeo.

Guaragna and Scales started at ZACH in eighth grade. The PPC gave them a chance to expand on their prior theatre training and to rise to new heights.

Gregory James
ON THE RUN: Rising senior Owen Scales sings as one of the actors playing Frank Abingale Jr. from Catch Me if You Can and singing the song “Live in Living Color.” MacTheatre staged the full musical in the fall of 2017.

“I started with ZACH when I was in seventh or eighth grade,” Guaragna said. “I was working at Kids Acting, which is an amazing place, but I was looking for more dance training, and I wanted to do their main stage shows. I wanted to be in Evita and Alice in Wonderland. I auditioned for the Pre-Professional Company because my friend encouraged me to, and it was really fun.”

Scales joined for a different reason: he wanted to stay with his friends who were doing the program. This group of friends, some of them upperclassmen, served his role models.

“I wanted to do whatever they were doing, so I just followed in their footsteps,” Scales said.

Gregory James
WHAT’S IN A BELL: junior Lilah Guaragna speaks her monologue about the school day and how it controls students’ lives in the ZACH PPC show Feedback: Too Loud to Ignore.

Although Paul wants to focus on dance not musical theatre when she heads to college, she said that ZACH has been a major part of her childhood. Starting with the ZACH summer camps in kindergarten, Paul officially joined the PPC in her freshman year. Of all the shows she has done while at ZACH, she said the production of Feedback has meant the most to her.

“If we get discouraged [during college auditions], we’ll have our ZACH family to help us out.”

— rising senior Owen Scales

“This year’s show [is my favorite] because it is so meaningful and a lot of our ideas were brought into it as students,” Paul said. “It’s very well thought out and I have enjoyed it.”

As Sophia Mullican and Hannah Hufford depart to study theatre at the University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Arizona respectively, the stage is set for a new crop of seniors to take the reins of both McCallum Theatre and ZACH PPC. Rising seniors Guaragna, Scales, Paul and Abigail Lerma have formed a group of friends, some of whom (Guaragna and Scales) plan to audition for college theatre programs. Last week, Scales was cast in the title role for Mac theatre’s upcoming Jeckyl and Hide, while Guaragna was double cast as Spider along with Finn Higgenbotham. Lerma was cast in the dance ensemble.

“Being part of ZACH’s program as a high schooler, and as a senior especially next year, we all get to go together to college auditions for programs for musical theater and for acting,” Scales said. “We’re lucky to have a good batch of us that get to go together, and if we get discouraged, we’ll have our ZACH family to help us out.”

Guaragna expanded beyond her college musical theatre aspirations to explain how she hopes to make theatre a career.

“I really want to work on Broadway as well as in television and film,” Guaragna said. “I want to create theater for people to change people. I really want to do that for my life.”

Gregory James
A CAPELLA AMELIA: Rising senior Amelia Paul sings her solo “Out Here on My Own” at the ZACH Theatre performance of Feedback: Too Loud to Ignore.

Both McCallum and ZACH’s lineups for the 2019-2020 season feature well-known stories with Mac opting for the musical Jekyll and Hyde and Murder on the Orient Express in the fall semester of 2019 while ZACH will stage Dracula and A Christmas Carol.  The PPC will also put on another showcase in the spring.

I want to create theater for people to change people. I really want to do that for my life.”

— Rising senior Lilah Guaragna

Although both programs bolster high-profile lineups for their upcoming season, one thing they do not have in common is their preparation process. While McCallum preps for a musical they are doing the season before (fall shows have summer rehearsals, and spring shows have winter rehearsals) the ZACH PPC showcase Feedback was a culmination of nine months of practice weekly starting in the fall all the way through to the week prior to opening, with daily practice that week. This process proved effective as the cast was able to fit in a lot of songs into a short 2½-hour show.

With all those songs, the true standout moments of the show were when the actors involved were not singing. These moments were rare and barely ever happened, but the longest one of these moments was probably Lilah Guaragna’s monologue halfway through the show. In the monologue, Guaragna discussed how the smallest things in school, the things that we most take for granted, are sometimes the things that most control our life the most (e.g. the school bell and how without thinking we know that its ring means it’s time to move to our next class). This monologue was made even more powerful because Guargna was on stage alone, delivering her speech without hesitation and with confidence.

Her memorization strategy is nothing abstract. She said has used it for all of her shows thus far.

“What I do is I do it two times before I go on stage in full,” Guaragna said. “I also write down all of my lines in order of when they happen.”

Gregory James
RISEN: Sophia Mullican sings her part in “Still I Rise” at the ZACH Theatre performance of Feedback: Too Loud to Ignore.

If you can’t wait to see the aforementioned McCallum shows or ZACH shows in the fall, the ZACH mainstage lineup for this summer includes Immortal Longings (running June 12-July 14) a story delving into the vast intricacies of the Russian ballet company, ANN (running July 31- Sept. 9) a story following the candidacy and leadership of former Texas governor, the late Ann Richards, in a hilarious comedic style. For a more family friendly experience suitable for young children, Wake up, Brother Bear (runs March 24-Aug. 25)  uses music, art and other sensory experiences to help children 6 and under connect with literature in an interactive way.

[This year’s show] is so meaningful and a lot of our ideas were brought into it as students”

— rising senior Amelia Paul

Now going into her fifth year with ZACH, Guaragna believes that her time at ZACH has been very educational

“I think I have learned a lot at ZACH, and I think they really set a professional environment for their students,” Guaragna said. “I think it’s a very valuable place to learn about theater.” 

The PPC’s latest showcase Feedback is an example of this educational environment. The show highlights the youth’s opinion on social, political and environmental matters of the time to educate and provoke an emotional response.

“I think the theme of Feedback is taking action, and it’s kind of the youth’s opinion on the world right now, so there is a lot of conversation on things like gun violence and other activism,” Guaragna said. “It’s a very progressive and political piece of theater.”