|Students bringing theater to LJMS with 2 productions
An overdue part of entertainment culture not regularly associated with a public middle school is returning to the Lawrence E. Jones campus. Not many on site can remember the last time there was an afterschool theatrical performance.
“We will be bringing drama back to the middle school level. We haven’t had an after school performance here in years,” says co-director Katie Rerecich.
In a double comedy billing, “This Is a Test” and “Uninvited Ghost” will be featured evening student performances next week.
“The audience is going to be amazed at how good they (students) are. They are very talented,” said a confident co-director Jill Zschach.
Both comedies are popular one-act comedic plays designed for middle school performances, and both are situated in contemporary times.
The scene in “This is a Test,” written by Stephen Gregg in 1988, is set in a classroom with a stressed-out, study-habit
deficient student for the main character. Uninvited Ghost, another situational comedy written by Le Roma Greth, revolves around a curious group of teens that answer an advertisement in the local paper.
Adding to the challenge of memorizing lines and marks for the two half-hour performances, the same group of students and actors perform in each play. “It’s the same kids in both plays…to give them (students) two different types of experiences,” said Zschach.
Zschach also explains why the two mini-plays make good, contrasting companion pieces.
“It’s (Ghost) kids solving a mystery,” he said. “It has more of the kids running around and doing more physical stuff. Test is more sitting because they are in a classroom. Test also has one really big part and a lot of smaller parts. Ghost is more even (in casting).”.
In choosing which performances to teach and perform, Zschach leaned toward This is a Test, a play she first directed when she was a student-teacher in Cotati. The irony in the choice is her co-director, Rerecich, also an instructor at Jones, was a student in those early performances Zschach first taught.
“Isn’t that weird,” Zschach exclaimed.
Thus, when picking the play, Rerecich naturally says to Zschach, “We should do a play we have done before… isn’t that funny.”
Ghost then became the contrasting companion piece selected from the drama department’s existing archives.
Zschach, who is also the drama class instructor, held open auditions after school for all sixth, seventh and eighth-grade Lawrence Jones students. The performances will include students from each grade level, and only two of her drama students are actually in the play.
“There was a lot of interest from kids that had drama experience. They are really excited about it,” Zschach said.
The dozen or so cast members are supported by seven student stage hands responsible for lighting, ushering, and tickets. A majority of the actors have prior drama experience and the students have been rehearsing three days a week since October according to Zschach.
“It's fun and also nerve-wracking knowing the play is getting closer and closer,” says student-actor Maddie Kilgore.
“The hard balance is making it fun for the kids and making them work at the same point,” says Zschach.
Holding the young students accountable for their lines and cues would be a challenge for any drama instructor; Zschach, in her first year as a drama teacher is learning along with the students.
“You want to make it fun so the kids come back each day. The kids are really talented. It’s (teaching drama) amazing,” she said.
Student-actor Morgan Gebhart says, “It's fun… people that have the same hobby as me.” Fellow student-actor Carolina Lenzi agrees, “It's fun hanging out… I made friends while being in the play.”
This Is a Test and Uninvited Ghost will be performed at the Lawrence E. Jones Middle School Presentation Hall on Jan. 18-19 at 6:30 p.m. Free admission with a $5 or more suggested donation. Spectators are encouraged to arrive early as seating will be limited.
“No matter how we do-it’s exciting to be back,” says an enthusiastic Zschach.