National and international events of the past year provide ample fodder for theatrical interpretation. Finding material for dramatic plays representing the negative events and emotions generated post-Sept. 11, 2001, is as easy as finding a drop of water in an ocean. The challenging part is finding material that emphasizes the positive elements of the past year, and that is just what the drama department at Kenai Central High School has done in its fall production.
The show, "Spirit of Belonging," was created by the department to be a musical celebration of families and patriotism in the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"I really wanted to do something different, relevant and timely," said Shona Redmond DeVolld, the show's director. "I wanted something that was relevant to the community and positive and up."
The play is a series of short sketches adapted from poems, newspaper articles, short stories and other sources, interspersed with musical interludes. The first act contains 21 sketches and two songs that deal with families. The 13 sketches and four songs in the second act are grouped under the theme of patriotism.
"It can really strike a heart chord," said junior Mariah Meeks. "It kind of puts a tear in my eyes. When we first read them I got teased for crying It just hits you."
Although the sketches represent diverse writing styles and come from a wide variety of sources, they all have the common theme of being inspirational and uplifting.
"We've been mourning so long, I think its time to celebrate," said sophomore Megan Kohler.
To create the show, DeVolld selected a range of pieces to consider for inclusion. At that point the students read the selections, auditioned for the show and decided as a group what sketches should make the final cut. Many of the pieces deal with aspects of family interactions and everyday life -- themes the students could relate to.
Students chose roles in the sketches that they personally connected with.
"I get to do a piece on adoption," said junior Melissa Vasilie, who, like her character in the sketch, is adopted. "You don't get to find those things in high school plays. I get to read about it and speak about it."
Mariah Meeks performs a sketch about the frustrations and joys of being an unpaid babysitter for younger siblings.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Performing a piece that relates to their own lives adds depth to the students' performances because they have a clear understanding of what they are performing.
"They really internalized this play," DeVolld said. "They're saying what they want to say. They feel strongly about each of their pieces. It's definitely not just a regurgitation of a script that they don't understand. There is no doubt in my mind they know what they're saying."
A familiarity with the subject matter also was helpful when it came to bringing the characters to life. The material for the sketches was not written in script form. There were no blocking or acting instructions included in the text, so DeVolld helped the students develop their own characters. Since the students had a grasp of the subject matter and underlying themes in each sketch, they also had an idea of what personalities and mannerisms they should convey to accurately portray their characters.
"We put in our own emotions," said junior Kalen Tyson. "It's not an act. We're not trying to be somebody else."
"Spirit of Belonging" is a departure in many ways from the past productions the KCHS drama department, including "The Wizard of Oz," "Anne of Green Gables," and "Little Women."
Other productions have included music, but the singing, dancing and sign language elements in "Spirit of Belonging" are a first for the department.
Whereas past shows have been widely popular stories that are known in book and movie form, "Spirit of Belonging" is something new and unknown. Unarguably, a new play doesn't draw the same audience as a performance of a time-honored classic. On the other hand, anyone who does come to this show won't be encumbered with expectations of what the set, costumes and characters "should" look like or what will happen next. Instead they will be able to take the show as it is.
The format of the show is unusual as well. Instead of there being a single plot and developed characters, it is much more segmented. Theatergoers who love watching an intricate story unfold from beginning to end will not find that satisfaction from this production.
Characters, subject matter and plots change from sketch to sketch. Everyone in the cast has a more-or-less equal role in the production, as far as how many sketches they perform in. As a result, there is no star or main character. This disperses the acting burden evenly amongst the cast and forces the actors to cooperate.
"It has been a pleasure just to see the amount of growth and how they work with each other," DeVolld said. "Everybody has a lead role, they all had lots of lines to learn. ... The show has been a group effort. Everybody shares everything equally. It would be a huge dismal failure if they didn't work together."
Aarick Carlson, left, and Eric Cox perform a dance sequence in KCHS's "Spirit of Belonging."
Photo by Jenny Neyman
The group effort exhibited by the actors is made more impressive by the fact that it is a young cast, with three freshmen, three sophomores and six juniors.
"You got to see what people are like and you can't help really but like them," said junior Jessica Deardoff.
Rehearsals came to an end this week and performances run throughout the weekend. At this point, all that's left for the students to do is perform what they've been practicing and hope the audience enjoys it as much as they have.
"I think that it turned out awesome," said sophomore Eric Cox.
The drama department's ultimate hope for this production is that it uplifts and well as inspires the audience.
"One of my goals as an educator was for people to bring their kids to see this and (for it to) start conversations about strong families, being united and patriotism. ... I want them to leave feeling positive and refreshed."
"Spirit of Belonging" will be performed at 7 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are available at the door.
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