The East High drama club is back in the second season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” and the cast is very excited about it. This season, the club will be performing another Disney classic — but it won’t be “High School Musical 2.”
The second season follows the club as they prepare to perform “Beauty and the Beast” and compete against rival school, North High, in a reputable student theater competition.
Student journalists from across the country were invited to ask questions during a press conference call with cast members, Dara Reneé (“Kourtney”), Frankie Rodriguez (“Carlos”) and Joe Serafini (“Seb”) to discuss the upcoming season, how they bring life to their characters and what they’ve learned from them.
Q: One of my favorite things about the show is how inclusive it is, and this goes for all of you. How important was it for you guys to play your roles in a non-stereotypical manner and then, how does season two continue to reflect this changing culture and diversity?
Rodriguez: I think it’s all about just being on it, and the writers do a good job about letting us just really showcase who we are, and I think it’s just honest storytelling.
Reneé: I think for Kourtney, season two, specifically, has gotten a lot better for my character. I mean season one was great, but season two, it really focuses on Kourtney … and I know sometimes, as you know a person of color and especially as a Black woman, we sometimes go to the category of being a sidekick, or not having our own storyline. I feel like, season two, we really push for me to have my own individual storyline and to focus on me growing as a person and Kourtney finding her own way without having to be the support of someone else.
Serafini: I think so much about our high school experience is about figuring out who we are and how we fit into the circle that we are sort of just born into and I think, you know for queer kids that’s such an experience and such a journey. Like Frankie [Rodriguez] said, it’s really just being honest and not really taking it too seriously, but just honest storytelling and just being those characters and going through what they’re going through to find themselves and find out how to be their most authentic self.
Q: These characters that you all play feel fully developed. What was the process of building your character like, and how has this shifted between seasons one and two?
Rodriguez: What's fun about filming the series is that you get bits and pieces of your character as you go. You're kind of putting together this puzzle which has always been fun, but for me, I think it's just the combination of drawing upon your own high school experiences, and just putting your little cadences and a little bit of you into the character and then it also helps that we have fun, good writing that they kind of go hand in hand.
Reneé: I think for me, it was a little interesting because my character was added in. So, throughout the season I was kind of discovering how she rocked and she rolled and why she does certain things, but I must say it was really fun learning from my character, and just finding … little Easter eggs I can put in the show to see if people will catch it about my character.
Serafini: I have to agree with both of them. It's going as we go along the way you definitely learn more and more about each character, and I actually was in a similar boat as Dara [Reneé] where Seb was sort of added more and more as the show went. So yeah I think drawing from high school experience totally is something I do as well; and, you know, just seeing what they write for these characters and how they all interact with each other, that informs the character.
Q: How do your experiences on this show compare to your own high school experiences? In other words, what similarities and differences do you see within your own character and your own self from high school?
Rodriguez: Oh, I will say, Carlos, is a lot better dressed than I was in high school. I feel like he's a little more put together in the fashion world than I could ever even dream of, but, similarities, I think the similarity of, one, wanting to be a student choreographer. I wanted to be the student director at my high school, even though we didn't have a drama department. I think that drive and that self-starter attitude to get things done, I would say that was definitely me in high school.
Reneé: Yeah, I feel the same way. I mean in high school, I'm not even gonna lie, I was not one of the cool kids. I was very awkward and and still learning about myself, but I do look up to Kourtney and how she's so confident and how she knows what she wants; but we were a little bit different in high school. You know she was a part of every club and ready to do things and I was a little bit, like, I don't want to make anyone mad I just wanna stay in the corner and just watch everybody be popular and amazing, but yeah, that was —It's actually funny I was a part of the costume crew, on my, in high school and, yeah, I was a part of theater in high school as well too so that was really fun.
Serafini: Yeah, I definitely relate to Seb in a lot of ways, mostly just the fact that he's a drama kid that loves musical theater because that was definitely me in high school. I think Seb is a little more innocent than I was in high school and also I definitely was not a farm boy. I mean I mowed the lawn, whenever I needed to do but that’s about the largest extent of farm work that I would do.
Q: Obviously this season, the musical is “Beauty and the Beast” and not “High School Musical 2." That’s kind of a twist for us, I feel like, as viewers. How did you guys learn about this sort of twist and how’s it changed the vibe of filming?
Rodriguez: Oh, for some reason I can't remember me figuring out when we were doing “Beauty and the Beast,” but I was excited. I love the show and I think it fits in perfect with the amount of characters that we have on the show and everyone kind of fits into their role fairly nicely and the vibe — I think the vibe was still good.
Reneé: I must say we all did have a bet and we were like, is it going to be “Into the Woods,” “Camp Rock,” “Beauty and the Beast” or “High School Musical 2” and I must say I'm glad I picked “Beauty and the Beast.” I got a little money because I picked it, but it didn't change the dynamic. Everything stayed the same but I must say, it was really interesting to do a musical that was on Broadway and see how we could exhibit around that franchise, it was so amazing.
Serafini: Yeah, and at the end of the day, I mean we're all still students at East High putting on a musical, which is really what “High School Musical” is all about. We’re drama kids putting on a musical and it still has that magic I would say of East High drama, you know.
Q: Obviously a lot of y’all are theater kids, and are pretty close in age to your characters. So, what of your theater kid experiences are you bringing to your role, and are you ever reading over lines and going ‘OK this is what the kids are saying today and this is what my character would say in this moment.’ How are you bringing your own kind of recent experience to the role?
Rodriguez: I’ll tell you what I never know any of the cool hip lingo and literally Dara [Reneé] is one of the people to fill me in all the time about what the kids are saying so I'm very thankful for her, but I think what I bring to my characters is my love for theater and just kind of how obsessed I was with musical theater in high school definitely translates pretty well to Carlos.
Reneé: I would say the same thing. I mean, my mom and I own a performing arts studio in Baltimore, so I was able to like learn about theater through that and be able to learn about new plays and new musicals, but it was fun to like maybe add my own spin to certain lines to stay relevant, but the writers do an amazing job at staying relevant when it comes to jokes and just everything in general.
Serafini: I personally like playing to the high stakes of high school musical theater. I feel like I definitely remember putting up shows with my peers in high school and it just being like, the biggest deal and the biggest event of my life at that time and I feel like we all in our characters definitely carry the same high stakes for our show that I felt like I definitely had whenever I was in high school so that's been really fun for me to play in Seb, for sure.
Q: So, in the pilot for the second season, we get Carlos’ line of ‘I’m gay and Mexican, that’s why I’m loud’ and I’m obsessed with that line. So, could Joe [Serafini] and Frankie [Rodriguez] discuss what’s like to portray queer characters in the iteration of a beloved franchise, especially with the show being awarded a GLAAD Media Award?
Rodriguez: It means a lot. I mean, definitely to be the representation I didn't see as a kid, and get to now do that and just have a whole new generation of not only kids but adults who have reached out and said thank you for what you're doing and it's just so exciting.
Serafini: It means so much to be telling these stories, and I love the way that they're handling the relationship. I feel like it's just like any other relationship and at the end of the day, Carlos and Seb just really care about each other and want to be good boyfriends to each other. It's really sweet.
Q: For Dara [Reneé], are you as passionate about fashion and makeup as your character? For Joe [Serafini] and Frankie [Rodriguez], are you as passionate about choreography and dance as your characters are?
Reneé: I am as passionate about fashion and makeup, but I must say though I am balling on a budget, so I can’t be wearing Gucci like Kourtney be wearing, but I do love mixing it up and I do love doing makeup. And I must say, I cannot wait until the whole cast lets me do their makeup and I can pick out wigs for everybody and we can all be Disney characters.
Rodriguez: Well, at my kindergarten graduation when they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a backup dancer for Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin. So clearly I have been passionate about dance my entire life, but no, it’s a good time.
Serafini: Yeah, I mean I went to school for musical theater, so I feel like singing, acting and dancing has been my whole life up until this point. So, yes, I would say I’m very passionate about dance and musical theater, for sure.
Q: What have you learned from playing your characters throughout the series?
Reneé: I learned a lot about Kourtney. She was such a force to be reckoned with. I mean, she's so ambitious and she knows what she wants and she's a perfectionist, which I do have some issues struggling with. I want everything to be perfect, but I did learn especially through this season that it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to make mistakes, and one failure just means that you're closer to your accomplishments so keep going.
Rodriguez: I think I've learned just the value in community. I think when we see Carlos in season one he’s learning how to adjust to being a part of this friend group kind of for the first time, and definitely on set coming back into work, especially after an unplanned hiatus just really learning how valuable your community of people are and just to, you know, hold them dear.
Serafini: Yeah, and with Seb, I would say, the way that he just goes after auditioning for Sharpay, which is just so something I feel like I would have never had the guts to do in my own high school experience, like just going after whatever you want, and following your dreams. Honestly, as cliche as it sounds I feel like that is what Seb has really taught me.
The second season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” premieres May 14 on Disney+.