SHS presents poignant play
summit daily news
Summit High School’s portrayal of “And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson” is teaching students not only how to act on stage, but also how to live.
The dramatic play, by Jim Leonard, Jr., depicts Elizabeth, a young woman dealing with the effects of polio, which left her paralyzed, as well as the effects of discrimination in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The story flashes forward and back in a dream-like journey, showing Elizabeth’s relationships when she’s a teenager and 24, and how she and her family struggle through her disease, money, acceptance and ignorance.
By taking on the roles of their characters, the students are reminded to “not judge people as much, and look beyond what you first see,” said Ruby Hornbeck, sophomore.
“I learned that even though everyone’s different, you can push it aside and they can be a great person if you give them a chance,” said freshman Jane Anderson, who plays one of the kids who teases Elizabeth.
The students are also learning how discrimination and stereotyping was more prevalent 60 years or so ago, Anderson said.
“I really like how deep the play is,” said freshman Emily Flint, who plays Elizabeth’s neighbor. “It’s hard to do something this deep and not feel the emotional pain.”
As senior Ryan Koegel, who plays Elizabeth’s dad said, “It’s definitely going to be a tear-jerker.”
But beyond the life lessons, the young cast is getting great instruction on how to become successful actors. Chris Alleman, director of Lake Dillon Theatre, has prompted the students to bring their best.
“Know your cues and don’t be late, or they’ll yell at you,” freshman Sydney Stein said bluntly. And Alleman makes no apologies for being tough on the kids. He wants to teach them not only the basics of acting – from character development to stage presence and vocal projection – but also how to work as a team.
“Theater is a very disciplined activity, so most of what I’m pushing them on is to step up to the plate,” Alleman said. “Theater is the most collaborative of the arts in terms of being a team effort.”
And so far, the students are working quite well together.
“We’ve all become one big happy family (even with) the technical side,” said freshman Kristina Middlebrook.
The students played a larger role in putting together this play, as they designed and executed all of the production aspects of the show, from sets and lighting to costumes and more.
“I think the students are pushing themselves more than they have, at least in the last (several shows),” said producer and teacher Scott Porter.
Senior Daniel Hagy, who plays various male roles, has learned from many directors at Summit High School shows, and he appreciates Alleman’s approach.
“He expects us to act professional, and I think it pushes us to go further than we normally would,” Hagy said. “He’s one of the most amazing directors ever.”
The black-box set up also puts more pressure on the students to perform well; rather than sitting in the auditorium’s seats, chairs are set up on stage, bringing the audience to the front and center of the action. Four long rows of seats set up at the front of the stage and two rows on each side of “gives actors a different experience,” Porter said, adding that the set-up creates an immediacy in which the actors “realize people are looking at them, which pushes their acting skills.”
The audience, in turn, will see the students in a different light – up-close and personal – and at a level of acting that’s “closer to the professional side,” Porter said.
And, the story itself will challenge audiences to focus on the characters the students have developed, because scenes flash forward and back with only small clues.
“(The play) is deep enough to give the audience interest but not as challenging as (some plays) that the actors wouldn’t rise to the challenge,” Alleman said.
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