By Ricky Sayer and Ben Feldman – Originally published by the Main Line Times/ MainLineMediaNews.com
Rosemont, PA — The 10th annual Mr. Harriton competition raised over 30,000 dollars for charities, surpassing the previous years total by over 11,500 dollars. The event, held inside the Harriton High School auditorium on Friday, February 24th, was put on by the high school’s student council, which is donating the proceeds to multiple charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma society and the Lower Merion Township Scholarship Fund, among others. Mr. Harriton 2017, billed as “The Party of The Decade,” saw ten Harriton Upperclassman compete for the title by showing off their talent, their creativity, their dancing ability, and their overall enthusiasm.
At the conclusion of the unusually long 3 hour, 13 minute show, senior Joel Danilewitz was crowned the winner. Once he was crowned and presented with a 200 dollar check, which he said he would donate to the Trevor Project, Joel told the nearly 900 in attendance that “everything is so amazing, this is the best group of guys I’ve ever met, Every single person in this is so incredible, I wish you guys could all be [Mr. Harriton] […] We are all Mr. Harriton, everyone of us. Thank you so much.”
Joel won over the panel of judges with an emotional performance of “Boys Don’t Cry, which Joel sang while playing the piano. “Boys Don’t Cry” is a 1979 song whose lyrics describe how prevailing notions of masculinity can be harmful to men who suppress their emotions.
For Joel, the song he sang was personal, he told the school television station after the show that “I’ve always been one who kind of has questioned that a lot, who hasn’t tried to adhere to standards that I think really just suppress the emotions of young men, and also work in detriment to a more equal and fair society.”
Joel sung under a dimly lit light that slowly brightened as his song’s mood raised. He was flanked on both sides and above by large screens that displayed videos of all types of men that expressed themselves in typically feminine ways.
“Being a man is a very diverse experience and I don’t think we can only define masculinity in such a narrow way, in such a narrow, negative way, and I wanna move forward and I wanna start having us all direct the narrative in a positive way and allow men to be more open with their emotions and about their feelings and there not be a negative stigma around having emotions and expressing yourself,” Joel said.
Joel said that it was all the more important that he send this message in a competition about young men. “I think that we should just try to raise boys and girls in the same positive way.” Joel also said that stereotypes and expectation are used as boundaries between boys and girls. “I think once we take those boundaries away, we will be able to create a much fairer and more accepting society, and this is my way of trying to do that.”
Each contestant had a theme relating to a type of party. Joel’s theme: political party. In the Q&A portion of the show, Joel was asked how to spell the name of a program he is in “International Baccalaureate.” Instead of spelling that out, he spelled out the phrase “Smash the patriarchy.”
This year’s competition raised by far the most money of any Mr. Harriton. From 2011 to 2016, the competition went from raising 8,000 dollars to 19,207 dollars, a jump of 11,200 dollars. This year’s Mr. Harriton was able to raise that difference and more, raising 11,589 more than last year alone. This year’s total was 30,796.53 dollars, with the goal having been set at 25,000 dollars by student council president Ben Barnett.
Unlike past years, where companies could only put ads in the program, this year a company was allowed to become a presenting sponsor of Mr. Harriton. This year’s presenting sponsor was Yangming, donating 3,000 dollars to the cause. Ticket prices were also raised from 13 dollars to 15 dollars. Council also started a GoFundMe which raised 5,000 dollars before the show.
Still, Barnett said that that didn’t get council to their goal by the night of the show. “The night before the show we had raised around 23,000 dollars from a combination of the GoFundMe, some T-shirt sales, lots of ad sales, ticket sales. So we we’re really close to our goal, and then the night of the show somehow we hit 30,000 dollars, which was very surprising to me and the other officers when we saw the number.” According to Ben, the difference was made up by raffle sales, concession sales, merchandise sales and most importantly, donations that those in the crowd made during intermission.
Ben said that the reason they were able to raise over 7,000 dollars on the night of the show was that people felt that the charities hit close to home, in particular the Sean King Fund for Inclusive Practices and Cure SMA. The Sean King fund is in honor of a member of the class of 2017 who had down syndrome and died while in 7th grade at Welsh Valley Middle School. “Sean King was a dear friend to us all. His tragic passing back in middle school was one of our first experiences with real loss,” host Ben Barnett explained.
Another charity with special significance to a member of this year’s Mr. Harriton was Cure SMA, contestant Michael Kanehann trembled as he explained before intermission that his brother has the disease that confines those affected to a wheelchair for their entire lives. “One day 4 years ago, my brother lost his fight with SMA, he passed away before his time, and before he could accomplish so much in his life.” Ben Barnett told us that one person was so moved by what Michael said that they wrote a check for 1,000 dollars and donated it during intermission.
Mr. Harriton contestants are judged by a talent they perform, a comedic video that is played before their talent performance, their dancing ability, and their enthusiasm. Contestants also performed in four choreographed dances, participated in a Q&A, and shared their best/funniest pick up lines. All of the contestants had a female partner who participated in some of the dances and in some cases the talents themselves.
The competition’s second place finisher was Will Hoffman. Hoffman shocked the sold-out crowd when the curtains parted to reveal him wearing a unitard and 4-inch heels. Hoffman, a senior and the starting catcher on the Varsity Baseball team, then proceeded to dance to Beyonce’s 2008 hit, “Single Ladies.” Hoffman was inspired by a similar SNL sketch. He told us that he thought that he would just do something to be funny and he didn’t think he would end up being good at dancing. As for the 4 inch high heels, Hoffman said that he spent the first of 2 months before the show rehearsing the dance without high heels and the final month with the heels. “Every girl I talked to was like freaking out about how difficult it was going to be, they were like “you have to shower in them and walk around the house,” but it really wasn’t that hard.”
Hannibal Ahmed took 3rd place in the competition. Ahmed, who is known around Harriton High School for his musical ability and his insistence on walking barefoot, performed his original song “In Your Space” on 2 pianos. The song came from his album “Epiphany,” which can be found on iTunes.
Other performances include Noah Karpel, who performed standup comedy; Devon Chulik, who showed off live art; Jake Berberian, who played on a drum set that was programmed to emit colorful LED light; Jack Mendelsohn, who had a comedic singing performance inspired by the Nickelodeon Television show “Spongebob Squarepants;” Michael Kanehann, who rapped quickly; John Lautenbach, who performed a harriton inspired rap; and Jake Rome, who played a history of Rock and Roll on his guitar.
The dancing was well-prepared, aided by co-choreographers Rachel Rosen and Anna Berezovski. The contestants spent 3 months perfecting the highly demanding dances .
A unique challenge that was faced by council was that this year the school administration could not allow them to practice at school for the first month of rehearsal. The Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church was nice enough to open their doors and allow for rehearsals to take place there.
The artwork for Mr. Harriton was created by Secretary Sonia Groeneveld and Co-Chair Ibby Maruca, along with the entire Communications Committee. Several of the set pieces sold at auction.
Besides the artistic work that went into the show, Harriton students helped out behind the scenes. On either side of the stage were projectors, along with a middle projection screen, that showcased the event live from different angles and various videos. The live production was managed by members of the school TV station, HHS-TV. Switching the cameras were Evan Bookbinder and Nick Merriam, with Ricky Sayer operating the main camera and producing.
Sound and lights was operated by students Emma Danz, Bryan Alves, Kate Selter, Emily Wright, and Emily Klevan. Backstage, students Valentina Spadea, Leela Raj, Nicky Kotler, Hannah Richter, and several others worked tirelessly to make sure everything went smoothly.
Harriton Student Council sponsors Mr. DiPaul, Mrs. Condon, the custodial staff, the administration, and several others were instrumental in ensuring the success of the show. This merely scratches the surface of the work performed over the past four months.
Ben Barnett said, “It was an amazing night and I’m so thankful for everyone in the Harriton school community who helped make it happen. [We] couldn’t have done it without you guys!”
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