Five Nikiski High School seniors and a Nikiski alum are set to perform Mark O'Donnell's "Fables for Friends" this Friday and Saturday at the Triumvirate Theater. And contrary to what your stereotypes of wannabe teenage performers might tell you, these burgeoning young actors are truly talented individuals who bring more than enough to the table.
Directed by Nikiski High School English teacher and Drama, Debate, and Forensics coach Carla Jenness, "Fables for Friends" is a series of several self-contained mini-plays with a thematic thread weaving through to eventually connect them all. Featuring characters ranging from a terrified bride-to-be plotting escape from her wedding to a depressed, middle-aged man engaged in a tenuous extra-marital affair, the play explores the relationships in life that never fail to inspire, enrage and confuse us all.
While the original piece by O'Donnell features nine of these autonomous "vignettes," Jenness pared her production down to seven, which still means each actor is required to play a handful of disparate characters ranging in age from teenagers to the elderly.
"It probably couldn't be cast any better," said co-director and aforementioned alum Joshua Ball. "I've seen a lot of professional shows done, I've been in a lot of professional shows, and you're not going to find a group like this that fits roles this well."
Ball, 23, is a 2010 graduate of Arizona State University who has briefly returned to his hometown of Nikiski before moving out to Los Angeles to try his luck as an aspiring actor. The oldest performer in "Fables for Friends," Ball has been rehearsing with the younger actors five times a week every week since Thanksgiving. Throw in co-directing with Jenness, and it becomes apparent how much everyone involved with the play's production is committed to its success.
"We've done everything. We've collected all the costumes, we've ran all the rehearsals," Ball said. "Other than Joe (Rizzo, the owner of the Triumvirate Theater) helping out set up some of these lights, it's pretty much been just the seven of us taking care of everything. These kids have done a lot of work with bringing costumes together: they've done a lot of fixing up the dresses, stitching names onto letter jackets. So it's been a very company-based production."
One thing the "Fables for Friends" team didn't have to worry about, though, was gathering props: there are none in the entire show. At one point an actor talks on the telephone, but there is no actual phone; another sips soda pop at a diner, but there is no glass and there is no soda pop. Everything is mimed.
"My co-director Josh and I decided early on that this show is all about the performance," Jenness said. "Thus, there is no cumbersome set, and in fact, our actors had to become mimes to eliminate what we saw as distracting props. I wanted to let the dialogue in the capable hands of our talented cast shine."
As the five high school students in "Fables for Friends" have all performed in musicals at Nikiski, they are more accustomed to a sprawling cast of copious extras than an intimate circle of multi-role actors. Though that isn't to say that they prefer one to the other.
"I thoroughly enjoy the size of the cast," said Tanner Thompson, one of the production's actors. "All the plays I've been in so far have been musicals with like, 700 people. We had so many extras for 'Bye Bye Birdie' it was insane. It's just chaotic. Which is fun, but with this it's really nice because I know them so personally."
Tanner Thompson, Conor Dempsey, Caitlin Reed, Mandee Jackson, and Aubrey Rizzo are all close friends and go way back (with the exception of Dempsey, who is not originally from Alaska but Connecticut), so despite grueling rehearsal hours and the generally demanding nature of play production, the five actors loved every minute of the process.
"That's the funny thing: it hasn't really been arduous, because everybody enjoys being with each other so much," Jenness revealed. "Sometimes we worked with casts where it's just a big drudgery. Not so with these guys. They'll just hang around after rehearsal."
According to Jenness, shows at the Triumvirate have been selling out all season long, so she advises that people call ahead to order their tickets or pop into the theater's adjoining bookstore at the Peninsula Center Mall where tickets are also available.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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