Olivia Coxon ’19 has been treading the boards in several productions at KO, her most recent turn as Rona Perritti in the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee this past spring. But not one to sit on her laurels, Coxon wanted to hone her craft and applied for the Joseph Spinella ’97 Scholarship which is given to the KO student that shows the most interest and aptitude in music. Once she was honored with the award, Creative Arts Chair Todd Millen encouraged her to “do a big, cool fun thing that you could never experience.”
And, so she did. This past summer, Olivia enrolled in Pearl Studios “A Class Act” based in New York City.
During her week-long stint, Coxon and the other 14 students worked with James Leo Ryan who portrayed Rooster in Annie and performed in Les Miz. “He was our director. He was amazing and incredibly helpful,” said Coxon. From 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the students went through warm-up vocals, stretching, learned new and old numbers and workshopped. The group performed eight musicals interspersed with choreography and spoken lines which they practiced approximately two to three hours per song, finessing their dancing and solos. The numbers included “Welcome to the Rock” from Come from Away, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Aquarius” from Hair, “Freedom Run Away” from Urinetown, “Why We Tell the Story” from Once on this Island. After the weeklong intensive, the group performed a final showcase for parents and agents.
The director gave each student individual pointers for them to practice, and the group learned some helpful stage tricks as well. Stage combat or the “fake punch” allowed students to work on their timing and hand signals to give the most natural appearance of an onstage fight. With an assortment of colorful stage makeup, the students learned to create authentic looking bruises.
Admittedly, Coxon said she is not a fan of improv so she had to work through her discomfort during those exercises. “With improv, you really have to think on your feet, and it’s really hard work and a lot of pressure. I always overthink instead of listening to the other people who are performing. I learned to work with other people so you're not in your own head,” she said.
Coxon participates in the various musical groups on campus including the all-girls choir, the Oxfordians and the mixed choir, Outlook. She will portray Becky in the Rabbit Hole in the school’s production in November. Although Coxon adores the theater, it doesn’t come without fretting. “My stage fright is literally the worst. I’ll be shaking. During auditions, I’ll think, ‘Oh no. I said that in a weird way.’ or ‘This person is better.’ I’m very picky and a tough critic. It’s really hard. I’ve gotten better. I’m learning to believe that it will be better next time, and I don’t have to be perfect. Don’t think. Just do it. Commit. When you are committed, people respect you. Acting is vulnerable, a very scary thing,” she said.
Coxon is realistic in terms of a future in theater and doesn’t plan on pursuing acting as a career. She said, “Theater and music are so much fun, but the industry is so hard, competitive and crazy. I like stability and a track.” Last year, several KO students visited the Bushnell Theater on a shadow day and learned about theater management. She knows she enjoys math and talking to people, and the experience at the Bushnell opened an interesting path for her to consider. “In college, I’m thinking about studying acoustics in architecture. That’s math based and interesting. The possibilities are endless. There so many routes I can take,” she said.
The Joseph Spinella ’97 Scholarship was established by the Spinella family in honor of their son’s love and passion for music. The Spinellas will support a Kingswood Oxford student looking to increase their own knowledge and abilities as performers. They are also looking for someone who will take a risk and push themselves to their limits while being kind, sensitive, and passionate. The scholarship is open to all current Kingswood Oxford students (Forms 3 - 5) in good standing and will be awarded to a student attending a summer music program.