Yosemite High School theater students, under the direction of instructor Lars Thorson, are undertaking a somber and ageless topic everyone on this planet passes through - the cycle of life - in Thornton Wilder’s 1938 classic Our Town.
Set in the fictional small American town of Grover’s Corners from 1901 to 1913, everyday life - the good and the bad - is seen through the eyes of its citizens. Because the stage is stark, with no props or scenery, actions are mimed and the acting is truly all there is.
“This is a very adult play and hard for teens to wrap their brains around,” Thorson explained. “It’s a serious play dealing with life’s big issues, and the big question ‘why are we all here?’ It’s a simple story about people in a small town who live and fall in love and marry and die. It’s very much about those real tangible things in life that we often forget as we whiz through our technology-driven world. For the students to have to connect on a basic human level with each other, and communicate those emotions to an audience raised on Twitter and Google, is daunting.”
Seniors Elise Keeler and Dylan Thacker, both 17, play the leads, Emily and George. Keeler has been in drama all four years of high school, and has been involved in the theater since age 9. This is Thacker’s third year in the school’s drama program.
“I’ve never been in a show that relies so much on the acting, where the acting is the entire show, with no props, no sets ... and it’s a little intimidating,” Keeler said. “But I love the experience of playing a more serious role ... it puts things in perspective, and makes you realize how much you can get hung up on distractions rather than the more important things in life.”
“I’m excited about this play because it’s a new way to express myself on stage,” Thacker added. “It’s so different from other roles I’ve played. This play is about baring the actor’s soul. You’ve got to put everything into it ... it’s really just who you are as an actor and who you become as the character laid out before the audience.”
Perhaps the most taxing role is played by junior Mary Weigel, 16, the stage manager who directly addresses the audience, brings in guest lecturers, fields audience questions, and fills in for a few roles. This is Weigel’s third year in drama.
“It’s a pretty heavy show, puts it all out there, and makes you face issues you don’t want to think about,” Weigel said. “But it’s such a beautiful and thought-provoking play. The performances require a lot of thought. The tonal inflections and the movements on stage become even more important because it deepens the meaning of the story.”
Given its complexity and difficulty, all three were glad they had more exposure to theater before performing such challenging roles. The entire cast began rehearsals last month, and have been busy learning lines and practicing pantomime, a crucial element of the play,
To this day, Our Town remains one of the most highly performed plays in high schools across the country. It was first performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey in 1938, and later became a successful play on Broadway, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
According to Thorson, Our Town will appeal to an older audience, adding that it’s a struggle to get adults not associated with the school to come out to see the theater productions.
“This is live theater. These young people have so much energy, and this play speaks to the timelessness of our lives,” Thornton said. “It reminds us that we don’t spend enough time noticing the people in our lives, seeing them, hearing them, communicating with them ... it reinforces that old adage, ‘you don’t know what you have till it’s gone.’”
During the performance of Our Town, the YHS Art Department will hold a small art show in the theater, representative of how students feel growing up in a small town. Artist and teacher Evan Higgins, who will select art from all his classes, expressed excitement in collaborating with the Theater Arts Department on this project.
The production will run for three nights, 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1-3, in the school’s theater. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students without ASB cards and $5 for students with ASB cards or children under 14.
Details: Our Town or the art show, call (559) 683-4667.