Edison resident Frank Guastella recently received an Emmy Award for his Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) documentary “I Can’t… I Have Rehearsal.”
Taking home the award for the category of “Best Arts Documentary,” Guastella’s documentary followed six New Jersey high schools and each of their local productions of “Mary Poppins.”
The idea for the production came about after Guastella’s friend Philip Alongi of NJTV had the idea of following Vineland High School, Union High School, Somerville High School, Summit High School, Rahway High School and Franklin High School and each of the school’s respected pursuits of putting on the Disney production.
“[Alongi] told me that he thought that I would be a great fit, as far as videographers go, my approach in dealing with students in general, and my ability to balance my academic lifestyle with me creative lifestyle,” Guastella said. “Basically, that’s how it all came about.”
As far as Guastella’s approach for dealing with students, he is well versed in the area.
He has been a biology teacher at South Orange Middle School for the past 16 years. Guastella used what he has learned in the classroom in his professional career, then applied that to his artistic one.
“It was great [to work with the children],” he said. “It was basically a continuation of what I do for six hours during the day anyway, so it was nice to see them in their mode of pursuing their passions and fulfilling this dream of theirs during the academic year. A lot of emotions were attached to it. It was really nice to be a part of this realm of seeing what kids can do.”
Focusing on six schools from four separate counties across the Garden State, Guastella and the production team had the primary focus of one sole thing – “Mary Poppins.”
“That was the driving force behind this [project]. It was all coincidental that these six schools in particular were doing ‘Mary Poppins.’ So, it offered us a nice opportunity to do this ‘apples to apples’ comparison on different school districts on how they all approached this huge undertaking of putting on a show,” he said.
Serving as a video editor, child interviewer, as well as actually filming the entirety of the documentary, Guastella and the team went to great lengths to create their final piece.
“I worked alongside Maddie Orton, who is the arts director at PBS and NJTV, and Alongi was also an executive producer,” Guastella said. “Between the three of us, we did everything from the production of it, to the filming, to the editing, to the overall process.”
For about six months, Guastella would go from teaching to filming and working with one student body to another. But it was through this long process that Guastella observed what each high school had to offer its young learners.
“It was really long. After my teaching hours, I would visit all of these other schools during these rehearsals,” he said. “We followed them for a good six months, through all of their dress rehearsals, dry runs, extra curriculars, fundraising opportunities and it was a nice opportunity to see the differences in the production qualities, the values and what is offered in each school district and what is not, as well as the socioeconomic comparisons. It was basically following these students around for six months and chronicling the ups and downs of each production.”
But Guastella and the production team’s efforts paid off after receiving an Emmy Award for all of the diligent and thorough work that they put into their project.
“It meant a great deal [to me]. For my day job, I talk to my students about what it means to be multidimensional and not focus on one thing that you need to be good at,” Guastella said. “Then trying to balance all of your passions and anything you are good at, to pursue it with passion because you can make an impact. So, fulfilling that and balancing my creative ventures with my other professional ventures was really nice to get recognized by the [Television Academy]. All that hard work definitely did pay off.”