JDHS theater fest spotlights students' acting, writing skills

Posted: Monday, May 15, 2000

It was four hours to showtime Friday, and India Young, in the costume room at Juneau-Douglas High School, held up a long black dress for Katrina Rice's inspection.

``It's like the queen of Sheba going to her own funeral or something,'' Rice said, dismissing it. She hurriedly stuffed batting into one leg of a pair of black tights to make a tail for the Cheshire cat.

Good friends Young and Rice were finishing last-minute preparations for a one-act play for the high school's Theatre Fest 2000. They also were to appear in an adaptation of ``Alice in Wonderland.''

Rice and Young added the short play early in the week and had run through it once. ``So that's going to be a little crazy tonight,'' Rice said.

The festival is a student-run evening of monologues, poetry performances, and adapted and original plays. It's adjudicated by local adults with an interest in theater.

``The students take full responsibility for putting the production together,'' from casting to costumes and sets, to blocking the stage and managing rehearsals, said drama teacher Bethany Bereman.

In ``Alice,'' atmospheric lighting followed the scenes as they moved from one end of the stage to the other, including an alcove outside the proscenium for dancer Tawney Marshall, who played an acrobatic, beatnik Cheshire cat. Music marked transitions between the scenes, and the elaborate costumes were similar to the book's original illustrations.

The festival attracts some students who aren't otherwise in student productions because they don't have the time, or, in the case of director and actor Vanna Evans, because they're never cast.

Evans said she gave herself a chance by adapting a Disney version of ``Alice in Wonderland'' for the festival and playing Alice. ``This is my last chance to leave my mark at JDHS,'' she said.

Students had been rehearsing during lunch or after school since early April, but there were still last-minute things to do, like testing how well the squeaky balls would fly off a croquet mallet in ``Alice.''

They wondered if the audience would return the toys, stolen from Young's dog. Mad Hatter Alex Alsen, who is from Sweden, couldn't understand the concern.

``It's an American thing,'' Rice explained. ``When something comes at you, you get it. It's like baseball.''

Rachel Cohen, who wrote and directed her own play, ``Rule of Three,'' put the actors through their paces one last time before the show. In the play, a gang of what looks like gothic slackers use magic to avenge themselves on another gang, but it rebounds against them.

``It's about repercussions of your actions,'' Cohen said.

Cohen didn't write the play for the festival, but the show was a chance to try it out. She said she chose one trait for each character, such as Ivan, played by Chris Conrow, who gets in everyone's face and gets beat up.

The festival ``is a fun, mad rush,'' Cohen said. ``I admit this morning I just wanted to get it over with. Now I'm excited to see it on stage.''

Meanwhile, in rehearsal Devin Chalmers was silently mouthing the words and practicing the gestures in a mirror for a Garrison Keillor monologue about ``Casey at the Bat'' from the point of view of a home team visited by Casey's team.

Chalmers said he played it as an aging baseball fan, the kind who's had a few beers too many, thinking of the glory days of Dustberg.

``I really like performing in front of an audience,'' said drama team member Chalmers, who took the piece to the semi-finals in the state drama meet this spring in Anchorage. ``I like it when people laugh.''

Drama student Meghan Sinnott also likes an audience. She performed a monologue about a frustrated woman who can't conceal her anger. And she and Carly Davis recited a rapid-fire two-voice poem about the purpose of money.

``I love the thrill of being someone who I'm not,'' Sinnott said. ``Every day something you do is like acting. You can't say you're a lawyer and say you're not acting.''

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