This year's theater season at Mt. Vernon High School offers shows of many different styles and formats. The variety is designed to challenge the school's young actors and appeal to its diverse community.
The season begins with "Once On This Island," a joint venture of the theater and the choral departments. The show, performed in concert style, is an all-singing, all-dancing, musical tale of love, loss, and redemption told by a group of island peasants sitting around a fire by the sea, waiting out a violent storm. "Once On This Island" has been performed on Broadway, Off-Broadway and the Royal Theatre in London. The show will be directed jointly by Caren Hearne from the Theater Department and Kevin Sapp, the choral director in his third year at MVHS.
The fall show in the Little Theatre at MVHS will be "The Foreigner," a comedy by Larry Shue. It is the tale of two Englishmen who are on vacation at a lodge in Georgia, and is rife with humor of the foibles of human nature and exposes the error of preconceptions.
The spring musical will be "Godspell" by Stephen Schwartz. Not built on a traditional plot, the story of "Godspell" teaches love and joy in the hearts of people rather than hate and sadness. It speaks of loving one's neighbor, forgiveness, tolerance and celebration. This modern and contemporary retelling, based on the gospel according to Matthew, is a celebration of music, mime, comedy and slapstick.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Mount Vernon High School's theater classes have been accepted into the D.C. Shakespeare Theatre's "Text Alive" program for this school year. Students will perform on the Shakespeare Theatre's stage, see the production of "Richard III," and go backstage. Professional actors from this company will come to Mount Vernon High School to work with the theater students.
David Schmidt, theater instructor at Mount Vernon High School, has been selected to participate in the Shakespeare Theatre's Theatre History Initiative (THI). This is an on-line resource to promote the teaching of theater history in the high school curriculum. THI is a text-based experiential and scholarly program that provides texts and support materials to teachers in traditional and electronic formats. The three components of the initiative include teacher training, curricular development and technological dissemination. Schmidt will be working with other secondary-school teachers to design curriculum materials and classroom activities. These efforts will be instrumental to the development of a THI web-site.
Mount Vernon High School's International Thespian Society Troupe 1779 is a growing body of students desiring to further their knowledge and expand their activities in the realm of theater arts. Membership in the society is earned via a points system, with points earned by participating in all facets of a production.
Troupe 1779 has begun to re-establish itself as a strong presence at Mt. Vernon. The thespian membership has quadrupled in the last two years under the guidance of its new sponsor Caren Hearne. The major focus of the troupe has been to promote more community and school involvement in the theatrical activities. To this end they have sponsored educational workshops emphasizing several different aspects of theater, from stage combat, dance, and voice to the business of theater, skin care, and physical wellness/injury prevention. All of the thespians are making sure that their theater experience at Mt. Vernon has them involved in every end of a production — not only as actors onstage, but as directors, marketing and advertising specialists, artists, stage managers and technicians.
This is MVHS's third year participating in the National Capital Area Critics and Awards Program, Cappies for short. Students from participating high schools act as critics to review other schools' plays and musicals under the guidance of faculty members. Sponsored by the Capitol Steps in conjunction with area high school theater instructors, the year-long program culminates in a gala awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center. Last year, the MVHS production of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" garnered four Cappie nominations for acting, voice, and dance, with Kyle Soller "bringing home the Cappie" for Best Male Actor in a Musical. Student reviews were published in the Washington Post and Connection newspapers. The young actors learn from seeing the productions at other high schools and interact with actors from other area schools.
CHILDREN'S SHOW SERIES
Recognizing a void within the local community for some type of entertainment for the younger children, Caren Hearne, with Troupe 1779, established a Children's Theatre Series two years ago. The performances are in February on Saturday mornings and target families with pre-school and elementary school age students. Select rehearsals this year will be attended by two of the area elementary schools, giving the elementary students an opportunity to interact with the older student actors and ask questions about theater and the work they're doing.
This year's shows, scheduled for February 2003, will be:
"Cinderella, Cinderella!" — a participation play for children of all ages. Children can help Cinderella's Fairy Godmother outwit the stepmother and stepsisters, have fun at the prince's ball and show the Prince that beauty is where one least expects it.
"The Emperor's New Clothes" sends the audience into a journey to a little village somewhere far, far away and see how an overly fashion conscious court and its Emperor find freedom and fun in a new set of magical clothes.
"Don't Count Your Chickens Until They Cry Wolf!" is a musical journey through Aesop's Fables. The audience will be able to cheer on their favorite in the Tortoise and Hare Race, watch the Boy Who Cried Wolf learn his lesson, and see if the sun or wind are the stronger.
Use of the Blackbox Theatre will return to Mt. Vernon this year with the classroom productions. Blackbox Theatre is a small, totally black functional room that is capable of presenting many styles of theater from in-the-round to corner or three-quarter round or other unique shapes that the director selects.
The advantages of using blackbox are primarily the intimacy with which the actor interacts with the audience that is seated inches from the performing space.
To the technician, the space must be transformed through lighting and selected set pieces. The technical elements must be more realistic as the audience is more fully aware of them. To the actor, the space means that they can never escape the essence of whom the character is at all times and never acknowledge the presence of the audience in realistic drama. In children's shows, it allows closer interaction with the children. All of these elements present greater challenges to the production.
The Blackbox Theatre will offer audiences the opportunity to experience the effects lying has on human life in "The Children's Hour;" the suffering, pain and heartache of war on "The Trojan Women;" the humor and fun of senior one-acts and be transported to the magical worlds of Mexico and India; and experience first-hand the frustration of racism in Lorraine Hansbury's "A Raisin in the Sun."