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The Hawkeye

Shymko steals the spotlight

Peja+Shymko+performing+during+Terrace%27s+rendition+of+%22Little+Shop+of+Horrors.%22+Shymko+starred+as+Audrey%2C+the+female+lead+of+the+musical.+
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Shymko steals the spotlight

Peja Shymko performing during Terrace's rendition of

Peja Shymko performing during Terrace's rendition of "Little Shop of Horrors." Shymko starred as Audrey, the female lead of the musical.

© HAWKEYE Caroline Erdey

Peja Shymko performing during Terrace's rendition of "Little Shop of Horrors." Shymko starred as Audrey, the female lead of the musical.

© HAWKEYE Caroline Erdey

© HAWKEYE Caroline Erdey

Peja Shymko performing during Terrace's rendition of "Little Shop of Horrors." Shymko starred as Audrey, the female lead of the musical.

By Hank Belanger

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Junior Peja Shymko started exploring theater almost as early as possible: fifth grade at Madrona K-8 School.

“I was really lucky to have a drama program,” she said. “My first time was great, so I’ve been doing [drama] ever since.”

Madrona wasn’t all about theater, and the school’s structure presented some unique challenges.

“It was a lot to be at a school for nine years…I didn’t get to do that whole transition from middle school to high school, but…I think I turned out fine, and I’m glad I went there because of the theater program.”

That doesn’t mean Madrona’s theater program was perfect.  

“At Madrona, the musicals featured very small children,” Shymko said. “There were middle schoolers, but there were also…fourth [and] fifth graders, so…it was very hectic over there.”

Overall, though, starting drama early paved the way for her work at MTHS and Shymko sees her old school’s program as a positive experience.

“Madrona was a really important part of my life. I was there for nine years and it shaped a lot of how I think today. I’m mostly just really grateful to have gone to a school with a theater program.”

Shymko continued her career in theater at MTHS, enrolling in drama classes and joining the Drama Club. She became its president at the end of her sophomore year. She found MTHS to have a much more cohesive theater program under drama teacher and director Jeannie Brzovic than the one she experienced at Madrona. The reasons mostly had to do with the students themselves.

“[It’s] a lot more organized over here,” Shymko said. “I feel like here…everyone is more invested in making our shows great because we’re more matured…and…we just really want to do the most we can to make the shows wonderful.”

Her part in making the shows great involves becoming the club president this year, though Shymko previously worked as the club’s secretary. Her duties then involved taking notes about meetings, who went to them, and when they happened, as well as planning with the other officers to help organize events like fundraisers and trips.

“I’ve never really done a lot of leadership,” Shymko said. “I was in pretty much my middle school version of…Student Leadership and Volunteers…but this is pretty much my first ‘real’ leadership position I’ve had, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it.”

Drama’s great, and I’m so glad it’s in my life. I think it’s a great time. ”

— Peja Shymko

As president, her duties mostly include helping plan fundraisers and managing the other student leaders within the Drama Club.

“The drama officers all have jobs…but we split up the work…we talk about [all the] stuff…we all fill out fundraiser forms… we all plan for the drama meetings and work on those…together…so we share the work, but I’m the technical president…[I’m] just making sure everyone in the drama department is informed about what’s going on.”

In addition to acting, Shymko has played plenty of other roles in theater as well.

“I’ve mostly done acting…[but] in ‘Leading Ladies,’ I was the head costume person…and also outside of our school I’ve helped run the spotlight. I just want to be involved in theater stuff.”

Although she’s helped with other jobs in the past, Shymko’s true passion lies in acting on stage.

“There’s something so wonderful about taking a part of yourself and putting it in this other person and becoming this other person,” she said. “I feel like when you embody another person, it helps you figure out parts of yourself just by exploring how this person interacts with the world, [and] you get to explore how you interact from the world and how it differs from the character you’re playing. I just think that’s really interesting and beautiful and I love doing it.”

This process of exploration begins with researching a show and choosing it, then going through the long tasks of discussing the budget, auditions for the roles, then increasingly intense and detailed rehearsals, a cornerstone of the last part being “blocking.”

“First we have to…block the show, which is pretty much our director being like, ‘So during this line go here, do this.’’’ Shymko explained.

While blocking remains the essential baseline rehearsal of productions, the next stages involve the real investigation into the characters.

“After we’re done blocking and we have all of our lines memorized…we get to talk about our characters and develop how our characters work and what they’re motivations are,” Shymko explained. “When we do that…we’re…developing the world and the characters and really story building…And once we…have the icing…we go into tech week, which is the stressful week right before shows, [and] then we go and perform it.”

Not even performing the shows ends the process, as then the set must be torn down to keep the stage clean.

Despite all the work, it’s always the same reason Shymko continues with drama.

“Drama is a really welcoming experience, and everyone should try it out because everyone’s just super nice and it always pays off,” she said.

Like all activities, theater has its challenges and difficulties. The demands of working as both an actor and club president left Shymko with precious little time to do anything else.

“There’s some other stuff that I would love to do…[and] check out other things but…I don’t really have the time.” she said. “I’m in choir, but that doesn’t really count as a club.”

In addition to a lack of time for other activities, there comes the inherent stress of putting on a production.

“Tech week is always really stressful, especially since we end up staying from right after school to 6 p.m., usually four hours after school…It’s kind of a lot when you add on schoolwork…and it’s stressful to just be performing…just putting yourself out there with something that you’ve worked so hard on and not knowing if it’s good enough or if the audience will like it.”

While the audience enjoying the productions always boosts morale, Shymko keeps going with both acting and participating as president to ensure an environment of creativity and fun.

“Theater has always been pretty accepting,” she said. “It’s viewed as such an accepting place because it’s just such a diverse experience, getting to play different people and see different experiences…there’s a lot of different people who come together to create this one thing, and that builds a sense of community.”

Out of all the joys of theater, Shymko likes the community the most, and this is what she hopes everyone can experience and learn from.

“[The] best parts are the people; almost everyone in every show is wonderful, super passionate, [and] fun,” Shymko said. “You get to be in a cool space to tell an interesting story in a unique way.”

“Drama’s great, and I’m so glad that it’s in my life. I think it’s a great time,” Shymko said.

© HAWKEYE Caroline Erdey
Shymko acts as the lovely Audrey in the school musical “Little Shop of Horrors.”

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Shymko steals the spotlight