Garrett Eady and Catherine Hoisington rehearse a scene from "Spoon River Anthology" at Kenai Central High School on March 27.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Students at Kenai Central High School are on a first-name basis with 75 residents of Spoon River, Ill., even though they've been dead for about 90 years now.
There's Russian Sonia, a professional dancer who married a fisherman and gave up a life of travel to live out the rest of her days in the small rural town. For 20 years people thought they were married, but they weren't.
And Judge Selah Lively, who worked his way up through the ranks of the legal system from being a grocery store clerk. When he finally got to be country judge, he never forgot all the people who used to sneer at him for being short just 5 feet 2 inches who now had to call him "your honor."
KCHS students know a story for all of them high points, low points, turning points or just random tidbits from their lives. And they'd like to share those stories with the community.
The stories come from "Spoon River Anthology," written in 1916 by Edgar Lee Masters. It's a collection of free-verse poetry, with the fictional residents of made-up Spoon River giving their own epitaphs of their lives.
Getting to know the residents of Spoon River is a rite of passage at KCHS. Cheri Johnson has included the piece in her American literature class for juniors for 11 years now.
"When you really dig into it, there's just all kinds of literary and historical allusions in it that really made it come alive for the kids and ties in with what they're learning in other classes," Johnson said.
This year she decided to stage the theatrical version of the piece. This will be the first time in four years that KCHS has put on a drama production, the last one being Neil Simon's "Lost In Yonkers," which Johnson also directed. She's wanted to stage "Spoon River" since she performed in a production of it in 1976. This year the elements fell into place.
"I felt like there were some kids out there that really need that opportunity, so I said, 'OK, in spite of everything else I have going on, we're going to do this,'" she said.
A troupe of KCHS juniors and seniors have been working since February to bring Spoon River residents to life, even if their stories are told from beyond the grave.
Even though the characters were created nearly a century ago, they tell stories that still have relevance today.
"I think you can identify with all the characters," said senior Quinn Stoops.
"They dealt with thinking about divorce, alcoholism, war and poverty and prejudice all those problems, we still haven't conquered them," Johnson said.
A few stories in particular resonate with the actors. For Ashley Bews, a senior, it's Daisy Fraser, who notices the hypocrisy of the supposed pillars of her community.
"All the upstanding citizens, the politicians, they aren't always good people, and that's kind of how people still think of them today," she said.
Senior Amanda Ellis sees a common experience in Yee Bow, a Chinese immigrant trying to maintain her heritage while others try to convert her.
"That's how you feel when you go into a new school or job," she said.
Sophomore Garrett Eady likes the humor in his characters. Politician Enoch Dunlap attended every political caucus for 20 years to make sure his constituents were represented, even though they never showed up.
However, the one time he stepped out for a moment, he was booed and harassed about it.
His last words looking back on his life were, "You common rabble! I left the caucus to go to the urinal!"
Students deliver the monologues, perform music that accompanies the play and provide the comic relief.
They've also been involved in the production of the show, from making sets to working on promotions.
"It's such an opportunity to learn practical skills. ... I think there's some fantastic job skills that people learn through theater," Johnson said.
"I can't even imagine the things that it gave me the confidence to do."
The social aspect of the project has been a good one for the students, as well.
"You get to meet a lot of different kinds of people. You get to form relationships and get to know kids that they would never know in the classroom, and that experience lasts. I just think theater has so much to offer," Johnson said.
The students will perform "Spoon River Anthology" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at KCHS.
Tickets are $5.
The show will probably last about two hours with intermission and is best suited for middle-school age and above.
Jenny Neyman is the communications specialist with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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