The Paly Voice

“Venture” brings the spirit of Silicon Valley to Paly theater

Soumya Jhaveri

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The cast of “Venture” previews the show with a brief performance in the Media Arts Center. The musical, written by choir teacher Michael Najar, has been in development for five years. “It’s a lot like a startup,” Najar said. “You just have to throw it out there and see how people react.”

“Venture,” Palo Alto High School’s next theater production, is not a contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare or a cheery tale written by Disney. The original musical, written by choir teacher Michael Najar, premieres March 9 at Paly and offers relevant perspectives on life in Silicon Valley.

“It’s about a young entrepreneur making her way through Silicon Valley who has to fight through gender politics, through her own family’s dynasty, through the challenges of Silicon Valley, to find her own voice and create her own product,” Najar said.

While writing, Najar set out to address several prominent issues within Silicon Valley, including gender and its effect on individuals involved in modern business, especially in the technology sector.

“In most musicals there’s always a bit of controversy, and I think this musical is no different,” Najar said. “It confronts gender politics … and I approach these things the same way I approach anything. They’re complicated, I work with my colleagues, my female colleagues, every colleague, to get their feedback. And students.”

“Venture” also promises to address the concept of moral sacrifice, as the protagonist Saira Sidana, played by sophomore Sofia Peterson, is told that she must compromise her beliefs to attain success. With a provoking plot, Najar hopes to prompt audience members to confront such daunting issues. “What are you willing to do to see your vision accomplished?” Najar asked. “That’s a scary question. What are you willing to forgive and what are you not willing to forgive?”

While crafting the character of Sidana, Najar said he drew inspiration from former Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, who exhibited tremendous strength when balancing motherhood and life as a high-level technological executive.

Najar began writing the musical five years ago while at an off-site teacher retreat, and since then, has continued to write it for a few hours each day. According to Najar, the bulk of the writing for the musical occurred in the past six months and he incorporated many student suggestions.

When Najar proposed performing the show at Paly, theater teacher Kathleen Woods agreed to take on the project with student performers.

“I became filled with anxiety and doubt, because little did she know that one does not write a musical without a bunch of people already [around],” Najar said.

While Woods has previously worked with and directed original pieces, this is her first time doing so on the high school level.

“It’s been very exciting,” Woods said. “Doing original work is a different kind of challenge.”

Both Najar and Woods emphasized the students’ impact on the creative process and their ability to truly bring the pages of the musical to life.

“The student cast is really talented,” Woods said.

According to Peterson, being a student involved in “Venture” has proved to be a unique and fulfilling experience.

“Working on this original play is a very new experience for me,” Peterson said. “I have been involved in a lot of the process of creating the show and bringing it to life for the first time which is is very exciting. However, it is also has been a bit challenging because the script and score are constantly changing and so I am often having to adapt to the changes, but it’s totally worth it.”

Najar consistently praised his colleagues’ work and contributions to “Venture.”

“None of this happens by myself,” Najar said. “A, I’m not that talented and B, part of the reason I’m doing this is because I like working with talented people. We’re so lucky to have such talented people.”

No matter the outcome of the musical, Najar said he is grateful for the experience and the incredible community that has come together to see Venture into fruition.

“It honestly feels like a present each day that I get to do this,” Najar said.

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