Saint Francis High School Alumnus Greta Gerwig made a historical run during this year’s award season. She is now the fifth woman nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. In light of Gerwig’s success, Lady Bird has directed plenty of focus on St. Francis.
Yet, reporters have overlooked another influential part of her high school experience. In 2002, Gerwig starred in the Jesuit High School Drama production of The Wizard of Oz, caste (to her surprise) as Dorothy.
In a personal anecdote about the experience, published as a part of “Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight,” Gerwig quotes her mother who described the production as “doing something ‘weird.”
Jesuit Drama Director Mr. Ed Trafton ’84 took an interesting approach to the show. He had it revolve around a fictitious school, Our Lady of the Reluctant Supplication, and encouraged the cast to get creative, or—as Gerwig put it in Starry-Eyed—“make it our own.”
This unusual iteration of the musical was one of the events that, as Gerwig comically put it in the story, “put the finishing touches (or nail in the coffin, depending on your perspective) on my lifelong love of being on the stage and behind the scenes.”
At the end of the anecdote, Gerwig admits that this production, to some extent, added a sense of confidence that helped solidify her decision to become an actress, a writer, and eventually a director.
“Greta was and is a fine actress, an actress that works so well in an ensemble setting,” said Mr. Trafton. “Jesuit Drama tries, regardless of what show it’s doing, to create an ensemble feel, and I know that appealed to Greta.”
According to IMDb, after graduating from St. Francis, Gerwig went to New York City intending to study musical theater, but instead she enrolled at Barnard College to study English and Philosophy.
After graduating, Gerwig continued acting, along with co-writing and co-directing, in a myriad of films ranging from low-budget indie films to larger budget productions, all while maintaining a sense of individuality and authenticity.
Gerwig started filming Lady Bird in Sacramento in 2016. While filming, in some strange manner of circumstance, Joe Courey ‘18 stumbled upon one of the sets for the film on the way home from Jesuit. After returning to the scene the next morning, Joe met with Gerwig, wanting to help out and learn some more about a passion of his, filmmaking. Gerwig welcomed him, and he worked with the set’s chief electrician during his time during shooting.
“We usually perceive people in the industry as being very headstrong and somewhat stubborn,” said Joe. “But everyone on set was really nice to me. Even the actors were really nice to me. I got to meet everybody, and everyone was down to earth.”
Overall, what Courey saw on set was some of the best that Hollywood has to offer.
The friendliness he received shows how Gerwig treats her collaborators, as people who have a passion for filmmaking. It is the way that Gerwig makes her movies that creates a positive environment on her sets, and her movies are, and will be, successful because of it. There’s a lesson for all students, as well, and Mr. Trafton described it the best.
“Be yourself,” said Mr. Trafton, “And be kind. In the world hard work, individuality and compassion are rewarded.”
In light of her success, Greta Gerwig has become an inspiration for students who want to follow their dreams. And it is still inspiring to think one of the reasons why she started her journey was a zany rendition of The Wizard of Oz performed in Jesuit’s Black Box theatre.