Ranked: From stage to screen

Ranked+premeries+at+Granite+Bay+in+2019.+Photo+courtesy+of+Yarcenia+Garcia

Yarcenia Garcia

Ranked premeries at Granite Bay in 2019. Photo courtesy of Yarcenia Garcia

From a Granite Bay High School stage premiere to an HBO documentary, the original musical ‘Ranked’ has reached national and international stages. 

The storyline of ‘Ranked’ is what creators and former GBHS Theater Directors Kyle Holmes and David Taylor Gomes recognize as what brought it the attention it gained. Inspired by stories and concerns of the students that made up the cast, ‘Ranked’ is able to connect with the people it was made by and for. 

‘Ranked’ premiered at GBHS in April 2019, then performed a concert at the Crest theater and at UC Davis that fall. From there it continued to reach more schools and audiences. 

The documentary, ‘My So-Called High School Rank’ was released Nov. 29 on HBO.  It features the musical’s premiere, as well as the success and audiences it reached in the years after.

The original musical captures the familiar stress about your GPA and rank while trying to balance life outside of school. It’s a plot most students at GBHS can probably relate in some way to their own lives, but has a seemingly unrealistic twist– parents paying to have their student move up in a public ranking system.

When writing the book and music, Holmes and Gomes talked to their students first about the issues that were important to them and what was on their mind most. 

Through recording conversations with their students and having them send in monologues about what was on their mind, they pieced together the storyline for what became ‘Ranked’ 11 months later. 

“We had been kind of growing frustrated with the fact that there aren’t very many musicals in the musical theater community that allows young people to play a character their own age,” Gomes said. 

With this goal in mind and ideas for a story and theme, they wrote up until the premiere, changing and adding songs and dialogue until days before. 

In ‘Ranked’, you are given a class rank like students at Granite Bay based on GPA, though this one is public. If you’re above average this means success, and below– failure. To some of the students, this is everything and the threat that rankings could go away is devastating. To others, after suffering from spending too much time worrying about a rank, they give up. 

Nobody can say, ‘How dare you,’ because it’s the truth. This is all true. ”

— David Taylor Gomes

“We were hyper aware that what we were writing was critical of the community that we were a part of,” Holmes said. “We have to brace for people to not appreciate the message that we’re delivering, but also this is the message we’re delivering because this is what our students want to say.”

Chloe Boyan, who played Alexis at GBHS and Lily at Davis, described how important student input was to Holmes and Gomes. 

“(They) wanted our voices to be the ones that were creating this sort of script,” Boyan said. “Once we started, I realized that the message was something all of us in our class could really relate to.” 

Natalie Collins who played Lily at GBHS resonated not as much with the pressure of grades and college featured in the musical, but with how tired and alone her character felt. 

It’s no secret at GBHS that there is a culture that exists in which a significant amount of pressure is placed on students’ grades and overall success. Whether it comes from parents, other students, or individual expectations for oneself, the outcome is a competition with yourself or the rest of your class to do better and is palpable. 

While there may be no data that shows this pattern, most students feel it. Even students who don’t worry about grades, feel pressure from sports, family, relationships or other stressors. Students are encouraged to rely on teachers, friends and the Wellness Center for support, but ongoing conversations and even Granite Bay Today opinion pieces show that these band aids might not be cutting it. 

Collins, like students that may not share concerns of the other characters when it comes to their class rank, related more to the idea of how much was on her character’s mind. 

“I think sometimes it feels like you’re against the world in high school,” Collins said.

“We invited (students) to bring in physical like images or clippings or screenshots from text messages or whatever to create a collage that embodies the themes of ‘Ranked’ and we would hang it backstage and some of that stuff was pretty hard to look at,” Gomes said. 

One image on the collage was a student texting their parent, excited that they got an 86% on a test, only to get the response: “Oh no what happened?”

The musical was able to resonate with more than just Granite Bay students, now having been performed at 52 schools and coming soon at 21 more. 

This success spanning other schools demonstrates the comparability of stress Granite Bay students face with students across the country feeling the same way. This is the focal point of the documentary, which is four years in the making. 

It follows three high schools putting on their own performances of the musical and wrestling with the very ideas the musical tackles in its dialogue and score. 

The opening scene features the final performance of ‘Ranked’ that the original GBHS cast put on at the Crest Theater in Sacramento, scheduled after HBO reached out to Holmes and Gomes after hearing about the production. 

The documentary was pitched as a different take on covering the Varsity Blues scandal, which ironically was exposed days before the ‘Ranked’ premiere. This timing contributed to some of the initial attention the musical received, including an NPR article about the musical that “foresaw the college admissions scandal.” 

Though the cast and creators hoped ‘Ranked’ would be recognized at some point after they premiered it, they didn’t expect it so soon. 

Collins said she first recognized the impact of the coverage they were getting on closing night, when the musical sold out.   

“I had done musicals every single year before them. I’ve never seen that many people in the audience,” Collins said. 

Over time the documentary has taken a unique course, following three other schools creating their own renditions of ‘Ranked’ and the students who make up the casts. 

“It’s about a lot more than just the musical, it’s also about the pandemic. It’s about student pressure. It’s about the intense struggles that young people have to go through while trying to be perfect academically,” Gomes said. 

While Holmes and Gomes and the cast of ‘Ranked’ spoke out about  the pressure Granite Bay and nationwide high school students face, they reiterated that they received constant support from their community– administration, colleagues, students and parents. Still, not much has changed, including the use of class rank. 

“Nobody can say,  ‘How dare you,’  because it’s the truth. This is all true,” Gomes said. 

“When you love something you can and should be critical of it because you want it to be better,” Holmes said. “This school is great, the things that we do are great and also we need to do a better job of taking care of our students.”