Third Annual Student-Directed Middle School Drama Night

Liana Boulles, Copy Editor

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From February 8 -10, Griffith Drama Dept. held their annual Middle School Drama Night, A Night for the History Books, which showcases the talents of middle school students and gives high school students an opportunity to work with younger students. This year pioneered student abilities and independence, with four one act plays directed by high school students carrying a historical theme, each followed by ten minute intermissions. This was the first Middle School Drama Night with four plays and where high school students took charge.

The first play, Washington’s Axe, is about an auction where a hickster tries to sell the axe George Washington famously used to chop down the cherry tree as a child; the only problem, which a buyer tricks the auctioneer into revealing, is that the handle and axe-head have been replaced several times over the centuries, leading one to question whether it truly is the same object. Starring seventh grader Braden Certa as the buyer and eighth grader Ashley Taylor as the huckster, Washington’s Axe is a showdown of comedy and tongue twisters debating the authenticity of an American antique. Sophomore Genesis Sandoval served as the acting director, while sophomore Vincent Zarndt was the creative director.

Next up, The Alamo parodies the events of the infamous battle at the Alamo in Texas, where folk hero Davy Crockett summons a superhero team of American legends, including Abraham Lincoln, Lady Liberty, and more, to defend the fortress. The Alamo’s actors were directed by sophomores Kyle Rassel and Alex Miller; sophomore Kylee Grumbles worked as the creative director.

The Ladies Declare explores the thoughts and feelings of Founding Fathers’ wives as they await their husbands’ decision in signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The ladies wait in a tavern on a hot summer day, drinking root beer, checking their laptops and phones for new updates, and debating whether women could run a Congress as well as the men. All while famous American wives like Abigail Adams and Martha Washington argue, Betsy Ross sews the new nation’s flag. Senior Emma Loomis and sophomore Grace Wothke were the acting directors, while sophomore Aseret Baez served as creative director.

“It was an honor,” said Loomis. “Directing is different because it’s your interpretation and you get to have more say. My favorite part was meeting the middle school students. Many are very sweet and talented, and I never met them before.”

The fourth and final play was not about America, but instead went all the way back to ancient Greece. Milestones in Comedy 339 BCE: Aristophanes Discovers the Spit Take follows how Greek playwright Aristophanes discovers his comedic devices while visiting the legendary philosopher Plato, who suffers from writer’s block after his teacher Socrates drank poison.

The call out meeting and auditions took place in November 2018. The first rehearsal was in the first week of December.

“We would split up into different groups,” said Drama Director Maggie Rivera. “Students would be practicing their lines, memorizing, and blocking, practicing where they needed to be. I’d check in on them every day, I’d watch each of the plays as much as I could. Then they would come to me and say, ‘We need this prop,’ or ‘We want to put them in these kinds of costumes.’ They also had to report to our other directors, like our costume director, and tell them what kind of costumes they wanted, tell hair and makeup what kind of looks they wanted.

“My primary goal was to make their visions happen and restrict their visions where I needed to, because sometimes they go a little crazy with ideas. The workload was off of me, directly, but it was different because I had more people coming to me with things they needed to make their visions possible. It was nice having more people be responsible.”

There were some setbacks in production. Due to historically freezing temperatures, excessive snow, and icy road conditions, school was cancelled four days in a row from January 28 to January 31. This was supposed to be their soft tech week, where microphones, costumes, and sounds all converge for full runs of the play. Drama only got a rehearsal on Friday, February 1, and had to catch up the following week. Additionally, thanks to the snow days, the Robotics Competition was rescheduled to coincide with the show, and the entire sound crew was on the robotics team. In tech week (the week after soft tech week and one week before the show), an entire new sound team had to be trained.  

“It was a handful because the show was so close, but it wasn’t really that hard, and Mr. Graff was really good at teaching us,” said junior Mary Cox, a member of the new sound team. “Everyone who had been on sound was really helpful. Mr. Graff never got mad or yelled at us if we made a mistake. My job was taking batteries in and out of microphones and taping them to people’s faces and making sure it was working. The hardest part was after shows; before actors could go see their families, we had to take their microphones off, so it was really rushed, and we had to be careful not to tear anything.”

Technical and Set Director Jim Graff, a beloved veteran of GHS Drama Dept., was in charge of supervising the set and stage crew and training new students for lights and sound. “Sets varied based on what the director wanted,” he said. “Student directors came up with their own designs and crews. Building sets for any show is the same. I look at the script, talk with directors to see their vision. You work on a plan and design, then start construction.” Set pieces from other shows were cleverly altered and reused to fit the scenes and time periods.

“[Acting directors] had to teach the students how to portray themselves and what action to do: hand movements, emotions to portray through their bodies,” said sophomore Harrison Pala. Pala was the creative director for Milestones in Comedy 339 BCE: Aristophanes Discovers the Spittake. “As creative director, my job was to find what would work for costumes and set. We’d look at our play and what type of clothes and architecture would work in ancient Greece.”

Costumes consisted of recycled dresses, suits, and, in the case of Milestones in Comedy 339 BCE: Aristophanes Discovers the Spit Take, togas and tunics from previous productions.  “Most of the time was spent sorting through costumes and getting them cleaned,” said freshman Daniel Sheffield. “We didn’t want to get too complicated since a lot of kids had costume changes. It was a low maintenance production. The hardest part was finding something that would fit the middle schoolers.”

Hair and makeup did not have such an easy time. “We had forty five minutes before each show to do everyone’s makeup,” said senior Molly Mills and Director of Hair and Makeup. “[It had to be] easily transitionable because a lot of students were in multiple plays and to play multiple characters. Some had to put on their stuff for the first play and then come back down [below stage]. We had two minutes to wipe off what they didn’t need and send them back up [onstage]. Some needed to be a new character with different makeup between shows. Time management was the hardest part.”

The show premiered on Friday, February 8, at 7:00 p.m.. A second showing occurred at the same time on Saturday, and a Sunday matinee at 3:00 p.m. closed the show. The week after the production, Rivera and the Drama Department immediately moved onto holding auditions for the spring musical Honk, the tale of the Ugly Duckling.