Art imitates life in new drama

Published 10:08 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Backstage, a semi-frustrated Danika Bryan yelled out directions to the cast.

Chontell Woolridge tried to find a co-star’s prop.

Mark Spivey got slapped.

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It was all in a day’s work for the Lakeland High School seniors, who are working on putting the finishing touches on their new production, “The Talent Show.”

Even with physical pain or mental agitation, the students are excited about finally being able to put on a show.

For the past year, the drama department at Lakeland has been at a standstill. Former drama director and French teacher Garrett Maroney stepped down, and the school was without a true theater teacher at the school — an English teacher currently teaches drama classes. The seniors thought that their production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” in 2007 would be their last.

“We didn’t have much to do, and we didn’t have a way to express our passion for drama,” Woolridge said.

But this year would be different, as it turns out.

Sara Sims, a special education teacher at Lakeland, has been active in theatre for years. She worked with the theatre group at Landstown High School in Virginia Beach and is a founding director of the Spotlight School of Dance and Theatre in Virginia Beach, as well.

Sims volunteered her time to the school’s theatre class and club to help bring back the foundering program.

“The program was left dormant,” Sims said. “There was really nothing here.”

Nothing except for a handful of students desperate to get back onstage.

Originally, Sims planned to present a stripped-down version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mercado.” But after a less-than-desirable turnout for auditions, Sims and the students had to regroup.

Bryan and Sims began tossing ideas around about a play based on a drama class hosting a talent show in order to raise money for the drama program.

“We don’t have lights. We don’t have a soundboard. We’re really starting with nothing,” Sims said. “But the kids are very talented. They have their own skills. They can sing, act, dance, contortionist, we have it all. So, we took what the kids could do and twisted that into the script. Before I knew it, we had a play.”

While the play centers on a talent show, there are also the many high school backstage dramas that unfold, as well. For example, after Spivey’s character, Troy, gets a little too close to a female lead, she gives him a pretty solid slap across the face. Plus, there are the locker conversations, cliques and inside jokes that high school students are all accustomed to.

“They’ve worked really hard on this,” Sims said. “There’s a lot of their personalities and their little jokes in here.”

Spivey said the upperclassmen have enjoyed being back on stage, especially with material that is so familiar.

“Being a senior, it was like, ‘Yes! One more time!” he said. “I think people will get what we’re doing.”

The students also said they were proud to be able to give back to underclassmen the way seniors had done for them in years previously.

“It’s a new beginning,” Bryan said. “Now we have a chance to work with underclassmen and share the opportunity to express their passions like we had.”

The show will begin this weekend, with performances Friday and Saturday night, as well as a Sunday matinee. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children under 12. All of the money raised will go directly to building back the drama department.