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BWW Blog: Jessica Walker - Community Outreach and High School Theatre

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Rehearsal of 'Cathleen Ni Houlihan' by W.B. Yeats
Photo Credit: Rose Cobo-Lewis

In a tight-nit community like that which I am from, the members of the town are all very close. Adults and children alike collaborate during sporting events, stream clean-ups, and fun-runs. This dynamic within the community also means that the members of the town play an important role in our school's drama department. Schools with less money in the theatre budget are often prone to do-it-yourself projects and community outreach, telling a story with minimal financial input. Coming from a small, rural community, myself and my fellow actors are accustomed to assisting in most if not all aspects of the high school drama program. However, we would not be able to create our productions without the help of friends and family. Through experience, I have learned that making a production is often so deeply rooted in the community you have supporting you.

In preparation for our last production for the Maine High School One-Acts Festival, the high school drama program found sets to be a crucial part of portraying our story. Doing a combination of "Cathleen Ni Houlihan" and "Purgatory" by W.B. Yeats, it was important to have sets and lighting that dynamically portrayed the differences between the two narratives. Working on a minimal budget, volunteers from the company and community members were able to create a set using pieces from previous sets, and flats repainted to match the inside of a small house in the Irish countryside for "Cathleen." The set for purgatory was minimalistic, but required a lot of construction, building a tower with a window that would house the silhouettes of two characters. Once they were constructed, paint was pulled from the schools collection to give the impression of brick, using sponges and creating a patchwork effect. The set also featured a tree which needed to give the appearance that it was "struck by lightning." Our primary set designer, a substitute teacher at our school, was able to locate a piece of trunk and burn the precise area of tree necessary to dictate a lightning burn. These were the little details that truly made the set pop and were within the means of our budget, making the show uniquely visually appealing.

Our community is fortunate to have a costume building from which both high school and community productions are dressed. Being able to have access to so many options without spending a dime is crucial for a program working on low funding, but more-so having people willing to donate clothes and time to organizing the costumes that are added. All costumes are kept on a sign-in and sign-out sheet that is monitored, and clothes are consistently coming in and out. There are always kind and willing community members willing to jump in to add tassels to a coat, rhinestones to a skirt, or a hem to a dress wherever there might be need. Even in my first high school production of the Sound of Music portraying the role of Gretel, my mother was the one responsible for sewing all of the Von Trapp children's curtain clothes! Having this supportive network is so crucial to making a program work regardless of the budget it may be allotted, but in one where money is tighter, knowing that this community exists makes it all the more meaningful.

The connections established between the network behind the scenes and the actors on the stage are evident throughout the whole community. Many of the women who fitted me for my clothes in the Sound of Music when I was 8 also fitted me in my wedding dress for Our Town when I was 14. I have painted sets with chefs, fished for costumes with english teachers, and organized props with theatre parents. I have met some of the kindest, most giving people through the programs I've been involved in, and those are the kind of connections you can not put a price tag on.


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From This Author Guest Blogger: Jessica Walker

Jessica Walker is a high school student from Maine who began her stage career at the age of seven, appearing as Gretel in a local (read more...)