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The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

Through classes, art teachers aim to grow art appreciation

Juggling Act: Senior works to explore passions with numerous roles in upcoming fall play

Henry Benton
BALANCING ABILITY. Playing the stage manager in “Our Town,” senior Emma Ciesla balances multiple roles — main character, and props and makeup master. The ability to juggle these tasks stems from Emma’s love of theater.

Update: In the in print version of this story, the photo was incorrectly credited to Alex Diamond. The photo was taken by Henry Benton.

Donning a pink tulle dress, playing the Disney princess Cinderella, 6-year-old Emma Cielsa whirled onto the stage of the Blaine Hall theater, announcing her lines in French to the Summer Lab crowd. Observing the audience beam at her performance, a deep connection with theater was made. 

Now, as a senior, Emma continues her passion through acting, directing and crew leadership roles in the upcoming play, “Our Town.” 

After that first performance at Summer Lab, Emma started uncovering theater opportunities both at school and within her community. Providing a platform to express herself, acting has always been special to her.

“I have a lot of anxiety and I can be very self conscious,” Emma said, “but when you’re on stage, you don’t have to be worried about yourself. There’s nothing like stepping on stage and being able to become someone else.”

As her knowledge of theater expanded, Emma also found sanctuary in directing, especially as it relates to helping less-experienced students assimilate into the theater world.

Emma is also a dynamic artist specializing in a variety of mediums, from sketching to painting. Being a part of and leading behind the scenes crew has allowed Emma to exhibit her creative side in new ways.

“It’s really an amazing feeling to be able to come together as a group and create something magical,” Emma said. “Like during ‘Something Rotten’ when I designed some panels for the backdrop, and then I got to see them all come together — it was one of the best feelings.”

Although Emma assumes a significant amount of responsibility for productions, she has learned to balance being a friend to her crew members while also being a leader.

“There are moments when you have to take a step back, and say we all want this to happen, and we’re all very excited about it,” Emma said. “But in order to do that, we need to take things a bit more seriously. I feel like at the end, I just want everyone to be proud of their contributions.”

Theater teacher Liucija Ambrosini said that she has witnessed Emma’s growth over the past four years.

“The generosity of working with others is encouraged in this space,” Mrs. Ambrosini said, “so those who pick it up and run with it learn an awful lot about how to build your own character, but also how to build leadership skills.”

An actor and makeup crew member, sophomore Bayaan El-Bawab said Emma always seeks harmony between the work and play of theater. 

“She keeps everyone organized,” Bayaan said, “but I think, at the same time, she doesn’t behave like she’s above anyone else. Like during rehearsal, she’ll be just making jokes with you and it’ll just make you feel a lot more welcome.”

Both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, when challenging moments for the program often arose, Mrs. Abrosini said Emma was a guiding figure for the team.

“I recognized her as a person who could really contribute right there when we were doing shows online,” Mrs. Ambrosini said, “and so that was an indication that she was somebody who was willing to develop things.”

Overseeing the several moving parts of a production can be challenging, according to Emma, but the community she has discovered within the theater program gives her support.

“It’s hard for productions where I’m trying to do everything at once,” Emma said. “I’ll be running across the stage and I’ll miss a cue line because I was in the set shop building something, or I’ll have to stop when I’m directing so I can run over and try to clean a prop up that broke. However, everyone in the theater carries the burden for me when I need it.”

Having closely participated in theater alongside Emma since middle school, theater manager Sienna Yamini cherishes Emma’s considerate nature.

“Emma is always there for others,” Sienna, a senior, said, “and she will put other people in front of herself. I have been doing theater with her for so long that it feels weird without her being there, and when she is there, I notice her welcoming and warm presence.”

Running through her last year at Lab, Emma wishes for her legacy of contributions to live within the program.

“I want the theater program to remember that I was able to do all of these things,” Emma said. “When I first started doing multiple jobs, I thought it would be too much on my plate. But I have been proud of myself for everything I have done, and I feel like people notice that I have pushed myself to succeed.”

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About the Contributors
Taariq Ahmed, Digital Editor
Taariq Ahmed is a member of the Class of 2025 and serves as the digital editor. He joined the Midway as a sophomore after moving from St. Louis, where he completed Introduction to Journalism at his previous school in ninth grade. Taariq is a part of his school's Young Men of Color group and Being Racially Aware and Valuing Ethnicity conference board. Outside of school, Taariq enjoys reading the news, listening to music, playing soccer and spending time with family and friends.
Henry Benton, Photographer
Henry Benton is an editor and a member of the Class of 2025. His favorite part of photojournalism is being with a team. The most fulfilling part of PhotoJ is seeing your photos in the paper. Outside of photojournalism Henry enjoys boxing, music and video games. Awards: 2022 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Photo slideshow, certificate of merit (with Andrew Burke-Stevenson, Malcolm Taylor, Matt Petres, Chloe Ma and Patrice Graham), “Photo gallery: Faculty face off in Homecoming arm wrestling tournament”

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