Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mayhem on ‘The Big Day’

Acting affords students new tools for life


By JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Express Staff Writer

“The Big Send-off” is one of the vignettes in the upcoming Wood River High School drama department’s “The Big Day.” Actors from this scene are, clockwise from bottom left, Hayden Mann, Drake Arial, Amanda Stelling, Omar Ocampo, Ian McKenzie, Caroline Scarbrough, Katie Walton and Abigail Barton. Photo by David N. Seelig

A group of teens with various styles of dress and attitude positioned in lecture hall seats in a Wood River High School classroom on a recent afternoon offered little that was apparent to tie them together.

But then the discussion turned to the reason they were there—which was to rehearse for a school play that opens tonight, Nov. 16, at the Liberty Theatre—and why many of them hooked up with the Wood River High School drama department, took a chance and gave acting a whirl. Basically, what had attracted them to branch out and be a part of "The Big Day," a series of comedy sketches by Pat Cook? Had they been influenced by the popularity of the sitcom "Glee"?

The answers were as distinct as the individuals expressing them. Turns out there are many good reasons to try out for the school play.

Because you want to be a star, of course, or you're a dedicated wallflower needing an excuse to extrovert yourself. Maybe graduation is closing in and you're looking to round out your extracurriculars. Or you're doing a co-worker a favor.

But if you stuck with it, they said, from the time you were given a part to the time you had worked your way into the heart, the wardrobe, the mannerisms of your role, something transformative had occurred. You're no longer the same person who walked in the door. You're still you, but you've accessed a part of yourself that you didn't know could be reached.

Where you lacked discipline, you now are inspired. Where you thought you had a shortcoming, you found out it was just missing a sensible perspective. Where you were reluctant, you now can be bold, even if it will require assuming a character to activate it in the real world.

And you've learned to learn in a different way, to express yourself better, to work as a team and to work around personalities.

"We aren't just a ragtag team," said freshman Caroline Scarbrough. "We wanted to do this, it was a choice for us and we have worked really hard to make it great."

It's a great platform for life, I said, where you'll find out that out there, people act much the same as they did in high school.

But you don't have to be the parents of these young people to know, after spending a few hours with them, that they've thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the production of "The Big Day," and have pulled together a very clever show with few props but their expressiveness as backdrops and scene setters.

The play was chosen in part because the normal venue at the Community Campus was under construction, so set-building was de-emphasized and character development took precedence.

"It also accommodates a lot of different styles," explained Karl Nordstrom, speech and drama teacher and Performing Arts Academy leader. "That's why we opened it up to the whole school and didn't limit it to the academy."

Freshman Abigail Barton said the experience has required a lot more commitment and hard work than she expected.

However, she said, "I'm doing something that made me step out of my comfort zone and it makes me more confident. I feel like it's inspired a lot of people to show what they can do and shine."

Senior Amanda Stelling said graduation is just around the corner for her.

"I hate talking in front of people," she said. "I joined last year to get over that. Now that I can get into character, it's going to help me a lot with my senior project."

It was a need to bravely expand his personality from just being the congenial guy to one with more dimensions that drew sophomore Omar Ocampo to act.

"I wanted to change some pre-conceived notions about me," he said.

The real thing is less dramatic than what is shown on "Glee," said the actors, and Nordstrom clarified that there are no diabolical Sue Sylvester types trying to undermine the efforts of the drama department. In fact, he encourages his ensemble to go to other clubs' and organizations' activities, a support that he hopes to see reciprocated.

"The district is big on implementing skills the kids will need for the 21st century," Nordstrom explained. "They want them to learn how to problem-solve and think critically."

"It's so clearly project-based learning," said math teacher Marcia Grabow, who plays Nordstrom's character's wife in a vignette. "I've never been involved in a play before and I had no idea what the process was. It's an amazing one. One thing I'd say is the students are completely on task—very present. It's been amazing to see how the process grows and deepens along the way. And I find myself projecting better in the classroom."

It also shows them the effect their commitment has on others.

"It's frustrating when someone isn't pulling their share and you can see how it affects other people," said freshman Allie Jones. "The best part is being able to bring your own quirks and snorts to the role."

Sophomore Wyatt Caccia is a debater looking for a "way to express myself in a more subjective way."

"It's the best feeling ever," he said.

For Alabama transplant Scarbrough, what started out as a way to make friends evolved into the satisfaction of a dream she harbored but never acted on before.

"I couldn't wait to get to high school to try for a big production," she said. "This has been everything I hoped for and more. I found a way to find something in common with people I never thought I would."

Sophomore Drake Arial was a freshman exception to the academy last year, having shown the chops, Nordstrom said, to go far.

"It's what I do—it's just something I really love and it's who I am," Arial said. "I have to say I've been very impressed with everyone I've been working with—they've been working really hard to get into their characters, which is a little harder when there aren't big sets behind you. It's keeping me on my toes."

The Big Day

- Today, Nov. 16, to Saturday, Nov. 19. 7 p.m.,

- Liberty Theatre, Hailey.

- Tickets $8 adults, $5 students and seniors.




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