Antonina Tortorello will have co-written and performed two original songs on a professional stage before she gets her driver's license.
Antonina and 15 other Weedsport High School students are organizing MayFest, a music and arts event where those students will also perform. Taking place Friday at Auburn Public Theater, the event will feature more than 20 musical acts rocking out across three stages. Between 80 and 90 Weedsport students will showcase artwork, photography, robotics demonstrations and more, and food trucks will be set up as well.
Guiding students through this sprawling endeavor is Brian Franco, who teaches the artist and event management class where the event originated. This will be the event's fifth year. The class is part of the school's music industry program, a series of electives in which students can learn songwriting, how to play instruments and more.
At first, the program included an event where musical acts performed at the school. The number of acts made the event too large to hold at a classroom or the cafeteria, Franco said. That sparked the idea to host the event across more than one stage at the downtown Auburn theater.
This year, students advocated for expanding the festival's scope. Franco said his young producers lobbied for including other disciplines at the event to transform it into a celebration of everything the high school offers beyond music. Franco said he is impressed with the thought and effort students have dedicated to their work. They have been alternating between rehearsing and organizing the event every other school day, he said.
Franco's favorite memory of the class this year was when students debated whether MayFest should stay at the theater or return to the school. He considered returning the event to the school for the convenience of having the students perform closer to home. What Franco expected to be a 10-minute casual conversation mushroomed into a couple days of extensively examining what the students were setting out to accomplish with the event. The students kept coming back to the idea of authenticity, Franco said. They concluded that holding the event at the school would cause the event to feel less like a professional venture and more like a student production.
"It is a school event but it doesn't feel like a school event, it feels like this thing that they've accomplished," Franco said.
On May 11, Antonina, 15, practiced the song "Turn Around" with her fellow sophomores Olivia Rudick and Aubrey Ouderkirk. The song is one of two original tunes the trio has created for the event. Not content to simply perform seven songs at the event, they have been running the social media for it, coming up with different ideas to drum up interest.
Aubrey said confidence is critical to navigating the class.
"You've got to be confident enough to stand up for your ideas and confident enough to perform at the same time," she said.
Franco said the class made a grid months ago with more than 40 goals written on it, sorted by deadline and other categories. The group conquered all but five of those goals by May 10, he said.
Franco singled out the show's student executive director, senior Jalen Flaherty, for excelling in a position that requires her to lead students she is friends with, and who know her from a variety of different contexts. While that can be challenging for some, Franco said, he feels Jalen has been more than up to the task.
"She's not afraid to say what needs to be done and make sure they are doing what they need to do to make it happen," Franco said.
Jalen, 18, speaks with noticeable conviction in conversation, not pausing or stumbling over her words as others her age might. The fast-paced, demanding work of the festival has increased her faith in her abilities, she said, and she will continue studying the music business at Nazareth College in Rochester.
"Having this leadership position and trying to figure out where to put people and to work as a cohesive group and be a leader is something I knew I would be good at," she said. "But I needed to learn more."