Justin Smith, playing the part of The Remarkable Ridley, works a magic trick with Lavina, played by Jennifer Lukassen, and Soyna, played by Bradi Anderson, during a rehearsal for Nikiski High School's "The Last Vanishing Act."
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Theatergoers have options this weekend, with the opening of two plays one at Nikiski High School, and one at Soldotna High School.
Both productions are suitable for the entire family. Both promise to have elements of spectacle and humor. Both provide opportunity for young drama students to make theatrical magic for a greater purpose: that of academic and personal development.
Ridley ponders his future at the dawn of the television age.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Mike Druce has been directing SoHi's plays for the last 15 years. Tonight, he will open "Frankenstein 1930." The impact of theater training is evident when he hears from other faculty members about the presentation skills of his students.
"You always know who the drama students are," Druce said of the level of poise, confidence and vocal coloration exhibited. "What I like about it is the self-confidence the students start to get."
Druce points to two main benefits of drama in the curriculum.
"One, there's an appreciation of the performing arts, and two and this is really the important aspect is the communication skills," Druce said.
"Whether they realize it or not, that becomes a part of who they are. ... In terms of the day to day, those are the things you really want to see."
Cati Smith and Delana Duncan play a mother and daughter at the funeral of the man who will become The Creature during rehearsal for Soldotna High School's production of "Frankenstein 1930."
Friday night at Nikiski High School, director Joe Rizzo will open "The Last Vanishing Act." This is the first big musical from Nikiski High School since 2004.
"This is the difference between being in class and dealing with abstract concepts, and actually doing the work and having to be there," Rizzo said. "If you go out onstage, and you forget a prop, you're going to look like a fool. I think that real life concept is starting to dawn on some of these guys in the last couple of weeks."
Rizzo wrote the play for his students, whose strengths he was able to assess starting early in the school year. The play includes 50 young people onstage, all with speaking roles, some juggling, some magic tricks, some choreography on unicycles all talents that emerged in a class that started the year with 98 students.
"We spent the first month just getting to know each other," Rizzo said.
Both Druce and Rizzo have relatively young casts.
"It's pretty much a mixed group. Most of them are new. It kind of cycles in and out. ... Most of the cast are new to performing at SoHi," Druce said.
Druce said the amount of time and commitment a show takes to produce can be surprising to newer participants. Eight weeks may seem like a long time until the performance dates suddenly arrive.
"You can't lose sight of the fact that there's really only 27 rehearsals. ... What can appear to be three weeks is really not that," Druce said.
Druce sets deadlines for line memorization and other benchmarks, but it sometimes takes the less experienced students longer to get into the rhythm of a rehearsal process. More experienced students provide good modeling behavior for others.
"When you work with the veteran kids, you're preaching to the choir," Druce said. "These experienced kids, they get it down really fast."
Rizzo's cast in Nikiski has an average age of 14. Most of his students are freshmen, with some younger, and a few older. Some of the young cast members have experience, but for those who don't, many of the challenges are in understanding some of the basics of stagecraft.
"The biggest challenge with an inexperienced cast is in the details. It's like, 'Pick up your costume, and put it away. Don't lose that prop.'"
Written and directed by Rizzo, "The Last Vanishing Act" features eight original songs by the songwriting team of Bob Miles and Chandler Warner. Peter Papura is the musical director, Phil Morin has designed the set, and Chris Morin choreographed.
In this musical spectacle, The cast is led by a veteran of the Nikiski High stage, Justin Smith, who is playing The Remarkable Ridley, magician extraordinaire, who is fighting the encroachment of Stan Rinemeister, played by Daniel Ribbens. As Stan makes the theater owner, Benjamin (played by Sawyer Skiba), an offer he can't refuse, Courtney Gladnear (played by Annaleah Ernst), a young girl with a dream of becoming a magician herself, comes up with a plan to save Ridley's show. The plot builds to a stunning finish as Ridley employs his magical skills in an attempt to foil the takeover of the theater by Rinemeister.
At SoHi, "Frankenstein 1930," written by Fred Carmichael, is an adaptation on Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and owes more to the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff. This version amplifies the film's suspenseful horror and adds greater depth of character and motivation as well as a new and different love story. According to Druce, it has its fair share of humor, too.
"I was attracted to this one because it really captures that melodramatic, awkward style of acting that was in vogue at that time," said Druce.
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