Testing the limits

Granite Bay High School introduces a timely new musical about the pressures of academic success just weeks after the national college admissions bribery scandal broke

Everyone knows that 5.0 is the new 4.0.

Everyone knows that 5.0 is the new 4.0.

Photo courtesy of Theatre at Granite Bay

Thu 4/4, 7pm; Fri 4/5, 7pm; Sat 4/6, 7pm; Through 4/13; $10-$12; Granite Bay High School, 1 Grizzly Way in Granite Bay; (916) 786-8676; theatreatgranitebay.org.

When we think of cutting edge, politically incisive theatre, one might think of Hamilton’s success on Broadway, or new works coming up through the indie scene of Chicago, Ashland or San Francisco. You probably don’t think of Granite Bay—but an original musical from local duo David Taylor Gomes and Kyle Holmes brings a national scandal right back where it began: The ’burbs.

If you weren’t living under a rock last month, you probably heard about the college admissions scandal that has (so far) led to more than 50 indictments. Holmes and Gomes’ new show Ranked is a satire that takes aim at this hyper-competitive (and sometimes seedy) world of student academic achievement. The play gives a glimpse into an eerily familiar school where your class rank is a caste system that determines your social life, your future and your worth.

Holmes has been the director of Theatre Arts at Granite Bay High School since 2012, and Gomes serves as the school’s musical director. Holmes had previously collaborated with Gomes on the serial musical Boxed Up, and the two were motivated to write a musical for their students when they found there simply weren’t enough good scripts for high schools.

After passing news articles back and forth about teachers arrested in Atlanta for altering students’ standardized tests, about a system in China that allowed students to take “loans” from a point bank to improve their scores and their own observations of Granite Bay students’ mental health struggles, Holmes wondered, “Why do we see these instances of corruption in the modern education institution? Why are the stakes so high that we are breaking the law for something that is supposed to be a public good?”

The pair took their observations of cheating, anxiety and GPA-obsession and debuted one song, which was an instant hit. They then invited students to a series of workshops and talks to give them a voice as the show took shape. More than 50 students showed up to the first session, which lasted more than three hours. Student involvement has not only made the show relatable, but it also taught students about collaboration and storytelling.

“When you’re a teenager, you’re always seeking validation, but collaborating and creating isn’t about validation.” says Gomes. “We’re teaching them to create, and they learn more than if they were just acting.”

Ranked promises to be something like The Putnam County Spelling Bee meets The Hunger Games, but as the recent news has shown, it’s not at all far-fetched. Holmes explains, “We wanted parents to walk out and say to their kids: ‘That would be so crazy if that were real,’ and for kids to say: ‘That is real. That is my life.’”