10-episode drama series Rise is more than just about saving a high-school music program, it’s about giving hope to kids and letting them aim for the clouds.
By all means, enjoy the cute musical numbers and dancing on stage in Rise (2017, find it on streaming service Showmax’s catalogue). That is what the show is about – performance. But there’s a far deeper-rooted lesson being taught by Stanton High’s drama and English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor, Ted in comedy series How I Met Your Mother, 2004-2015). He wants to inspire his students to dream big and achieve those goals with a little help from his secret weapon: the school’s theatre and stage performance department. That’s not the only story of inspiration in this show though.
Rise is based on 2013 best-selling novel Drama High by Michael Sokolove. It’s a biographical story about drama teacher Lou Volpe, who spent over 40 years teaching English and drama at a small-town Pennsylvania high school and using stage plays, Lou got his students to rise up, be counted and make the most of their God-given talents. “We took Drama High as an inspiration and then I really felt like I needed to make it kind of my own story,” explains Rise creator Jason Katims. There’s more drama than just with Lou trying to get the kids into his stage production. He’s met with a brick wall from the other teachers, especially Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez, Phoebe in drama series Pure, 2017). She was the assistant theatre director who lost the director’s job to Lou. “When you get an email from Jason (who’s done Friday Night Lights, 2006-2011) and Jeffrey Seller (who produced stage play Hamilton) and they’re producing a TV show about a drama teacher at a public high school, you go, ‘Yeah, I’d probably wanna do that,” says Josh jokingly. “It was a no-brainer. Then you read this book and you realise that it’s not fiction, this really happened and that adds to this show and what it brings to the plate: performance within performance.”
TALE AS OLD AS TIME
While the show only has 10 episodes, Josh and his co-stars say that there are so many more stories to tell – and be told by viewers. All they have to do is read the book “because it will open your eyes to things that you maybe took for granted over the years and didn’t realise were holding you back,” explains Rosie. Josh adds that reading Drama High before filming “made me realise just how important drama and the arts are to our future as actors. I thought to myself, ‘If I didn’t have the opportunities that I did? I would not be in this career, I would not have my job and I certainly would not be working on a show like Rise”.
LIFE IMITATES ART
The irony of Rise being cancelled after one season isn’t lost on Josh though, who explains that it’s the same in the real world. “Arts programs have been the first to go at any school when the budget gets slashed. My character Lou is trying to save his drama class and he is against a town that clearly doesn’t care about theatre. I think that is very telling of the world we find ourselves in in this modern world, where art is always the first to go.”
And he doesn’t want his co-stars to be downcast after the cancellation because it will only make them stronger. “I have been cut from shows. I’ve been dropped from plays. I’ve lost jobs. It’s not the end of the world. It means you need to go find something new. We have this terrific cast – I don’t even know where the producers found these kids because the amount of talent on display is incredible. Watching them sing and dance and act and act within the show… it has been a pleasure to watch and be part of the journey.”
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Lou (right) needs help saving his drama class and he gets it from his rival Tracey (left).