While the spotlight shines bright onstage for high school theater students, the attention can dim once they are off it. At the Daily Item in Sunbury, Penn., features editor John Zaktansky wanted to ensure this didn’t happen.
Together with freelancer Tricia Kline, the pair produced a 36-page publication including behind-the-scenes stories and columns on 13 school productions, as well as a complete list of all cast and crew members. The special section was inserted in the May 16 edition of the Item, which maintains a weekday circulation of around 17,000.
Though it initially began last year, the project was expanded for 2017 to feature a dozen more pages and a red carpet event.
“I had wanted to do this for quite a while, especially as we continue to make our newspaper more community-centered,” Zaktansky said. “The one area that we previously weren’t doing a whole lot of was honoring and recognizing the kids who were involved in these musicals.”
The task of completing this year’s #ValleyMusicals publication was a gradual one, with work on it beginning as far back as December. To drum up more interest from the public, Zaktansky and Kline wrote previews before each musical that were included in the paper’s weekly Applause section. Throughout the project, readers were also regularly encouraged to share their favorite musical photos, comments and backstage stories on social media using the #ValleyMusicals hashtag.
After attending a musical, Zaktansky said he collected copies of the program and gave them to the advertising department as a new method to generate leads for this year’s publication.
“We thought that was a great jumping off point to have people to contact, especially since so many local businesses typically place a small ad encouraging students in the program,” he said. “It ended up being a good way of finding some new ad revenue that we previously weren’t getting.”
On the night before the special section was included in the newspaper, roughly 300 copies were handed out to student actors and crew as they walked the red carpet at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg. The gala event, sponsored by the Item, featured live performances from students, brief video recaps of all 13 plays, a guest speaker, and special recognition at the end including trophies and certificates.
“One of the main things I discovered was just how humble these kids are,” Kline said. “They were a pleasure to speak with and really appreciated being recognized for their work.”
According to editor Dennis Lyons, the paper plans to continue the #ValleyMusicals publication next year and credited Zaktansky as being the driving force behind the special section.
“John is the heart and soul of this project—there’s no question about that,” Lyons said. “I gave him some guidance but he took the ball and ran with it this year. He truly went above and beyond.”