Brock Weller needs to learn how to be fussy with a tea cup. The high school freshman is not holding it by the handle, and he's got his thumb in it.
But that's OK because drama teacher Bethany Bereman is there to show him.
"Handle it so it reads as fine china and this is my ritual," she told Weller at a rehearsal last week.
Juneau-Douglas High School students will perform "Dracula," an adaptation by Steven Dietz of the Bram Stoker novel, at the JDHS auditorium at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and next Tuesday, which is Halloween, plus Nov. 3 and 4.
Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults at Hearthside Books and from cast members, or $12 for adults at the door. It's half-price on Halloween for people in costume.
Bereman, who is directing, chose "Dracula" for several reasons. It's based on a good book studied in some JDHS literature classes, it appeals to students and it provides a technical challenge, she said. The play also has seven strong characters and not just one star.
"I like to do shows that don't specifically focus on the star because kids want to have as much experience as they can," she said.
Audiences will see the fruit of weeks of rehearsals an educational process that Bereman says teaches students about commitment,
managing their time and responsibility, as well as the technique of acting and stagecraft.
Getting the tea cup right was one detail in a 90-minute rehearsal last week covering just five minutes stage time in the two-hour production. Poised behind a music stand with her script, Bereman scrutinized every detail of rehearsal, including when to hiss.
"You don't turn into a vampire with rage until someone drives you off your prey," Bereman told Nicky Love, playing Lucy.
Bereman coached Weller, who plays the tea-drinking Dr. Seward, through a series of lines in which his speech must reflect a growing awareness of his patient Lucy's condition. Bereman asked Weller to sound different every time he speaks Lucy's name. Eventually, he started his speech softly, with a query in his voice and built to a sob.
"Thank you, Brock," Bereman said.
Again and again Bereman pushed the actors to react to each other's lines and to show the audience those reactions.
When the students grew tired and began forgetting their lines, Bereman had them pace in a circle around the bed, reciting their lines while she clapped her hands. She wanted them to practice their lines with the appropriate emotion while moving, she said. Then she would get them to say the lines while moving to the demands of the scenes.
After rehearsals, Bereman posts notes about students' performances in the rehearsal room or gathers the kids for a critique. At first the students felt threatened by the note-taking, Bereman said, but became hungry for notes when they saw it was a way to make them better.
Bereman briskly shot comments at students after rehearsal Saturday. A menu was upside down, she noted. Look at a man when he's proposing to you, she said to one actor. Bereman wanted a different curtsy from an actor, with the foot crossed in back not in front.
"Renfield," she said to Zach Gowdy, who plays a madman thirsty for blood, even insect blood, "good job."
"Whew," he said.
"And really nice with the fly-smash," Bereman added.
The actors, who auditioned for the roles, have been rehearsing for four weeks, following two weeks of studying the play and the period. Other students are working behind the scenes, under the scenes in the pit and above the scenes in the catwalk near the auditorium's ceiling.
Last Wednesday, Heather Malick and David Nestler were stapling red-painted pieces of particle board onto a stage flat to represent the brick interior of Dr. Seward's asylum. They planned to spend five hours a night, all week long, working on the set.
Malick used a piece of particle board as a ruler for Nestler as he stapled the bricks in the top row, but the board is flexible and the row looked crooked. Malick scrutinized it from the seats.
"Those are looking great. That is such a cool thing," Bereman said, walking by. Then she paused is that top row straight? and told them to get a higher ladder if they needed one.
Part of doing a school play is to pursue a level of excellence, Bereman said in an interview. "They don't know right now how good they are and how good the show is going to come off."
Auditorium manager Toby Clark helps teach technical theater, showing the students how to use lights, sets and special effects to create Dracula's world. At a run-through Saturday, Clark and student Brandon Wigfield, the assistant stage manager, sat in the auditorium and talked to the crew over headsets. Wigfield and Heidi Rowlette are the first students in years to serve as stage managers, and they're doing it as independent studies.
Props manager Rachel Cohen is also doing an independent study. The toughest challenge is coming up with a blood-transfusion device that suits the period, she said.
During the play, Wigfield will "call" everything to the technical crew, including the lights and sounds and when to move scenery into the area above the stage.
"This is the first time I've ever done this, so it's like 'aaah!' " she said.
"In a show like this where you're trying to have magic elements (such as smoke and lightning) there needs to be almost as many people working on that as actors working on the stage," Clark said.
"The play calls for certain effects, but doesn't tell you how to do them like blood dripping out of lips. One of things we're going to do in this show is have a flying bat," Clark said.
The challenge is to do it without it looking like someone is fishing, he added.
During a run-through Saturday, student Mikko Wilson, the special effects manager, showed Clark a detailed drawing that illustrates how he'll solve the problem of raising a coffin from the stage, how he'll light it from within, send out fog and close the lid all from the pit under the stage.
Alisa Breiling, one of the properties assistants, said she took the technical theater class because she likes to design things and "because I'm a quite literal drama freak." She helped build the sets for "Dracula."
"I kind of wanted to put my heart and soul in it," she said. "I like the Halloween idea of 'Dracula.' It makes your mind work. It completely opens up the creativity."