East Alton-Wood River High School administrators and teachers will take to the stage in the school’s fall production of “Our Town.”
A handful of the students’ favorite teachers, as well as high school Superintendent Dr. John Pearson, will put their acting abilities to the test Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21-22, in the EA-WR auditorium.
“I was drafted, OK, maybe sweet-talked, into this role,” said EA-WR social studies teacher John Marshall, who plays the part of Professor Willard. “I’ve worked with lighting in theater before, but I was always too shy to get on stage myself. My role is not that big, but it allows me to be something I’ve always wanted to be — a college professor — and this probably is the closest I’ll get. I’ll admit this will most likely be my debut and my final curtain call, all rolled into one. This has been fun.”
Bringing new talent out of the shadows in high school theater is a continuing challenge for directors, but in recent years, EA-WR has seen many new faces enjoy the stage’s make-believe world.
“Newcomer and eccentric Aurora Plake takes the lead and may shock some with her modest appearance and heartfelt emotions,” Director and EA-WR English teacher Susie Ledford said. “I chose this show because of the larger cast size and the fact that I could incorporate faculty. I really loved this show.”
The Stage Manager, played by Pearson, welcomes the audience as he introduces the people and places of Grover’s Corners, N.H. Grover’s Corners is the picture of an American town before urbanization: a time when automobiles are a novelty, everyone knows one another’s business, and milk is still delivered fresh every morning by Howie the milk man. After a town overview, the Stage Manager focuses on two neighboring families: the Gibbs family and the Webb family. Each household has two children, a boy and a girl. Emily Webb, played by Aurora Plake; and George Gibbs, played by Ian Compton, are childhood friends.
By the start of the second act, three years have passed in the life of “Our Town,” and friendship has blossomed into love for George and Emily, who are about to get married. But things change quickly for the characters on stage, just as they can in real life.
The third act takes place in the town cemetery after Emily has died in childbirth and is joined by other deceased members of Grover’s Corners. As soon as the funeral is over, Emily realizes she can relive her life and decides to return to the morning of her 12th birthday, despite warnings from her fellow spirits that it’s a terrible idea. Emily soon realizes that they’re correct. Death has brought Emily a heightened awareness of life; it is too painful for Emily to watch living people who take their time for granted.
“This show has a universal theme of life, marriage and death,” Pearson said. “This is a timeless show that cuts across all generations. I’m enjoying my role as the crusty Stage Manager with a heart.”
Pearson isn’t the typical high school superintendent.
“I’ve always been on stage when it came to music and singing,” Pearson said. “Through speeches, playing the piano or singing the national anthem at a sporting event, I’ve always been comfortable performing; however, this is my first time acting. I’ve been singing on stage in church since I was 5 years old.”
Building relationships with the students has been a priority for Pearson’s administration. Being available and approachable to students, faculty and parents has been a focus of his time.
“Few students ever meet their superintendent,” Ledford said. “Having Dr. Pearson working with the cast is remarkable. He is a good role model, on and off the stage. Most of all, the students see first-hand that acting can be a part of their lives in adulthood.”
Ledford has been involved in the theater department for more than 20 years and is enjoying working with her former students, such as co-director Chris “Docta” Jones, and the children of previous cast members. After taking time off to have a family, she returned to the stage for EA-WR last spring when a co-director position became available.
“Majoring in theater education at SIUE, I directed high school shows for 12 years,” Ledford said. “Raising three children made it impossible for me to continue directing. This year our oldest daughter is away at college, our son can drive, and our youngest daughter is old enough to be home alone and cook when needed; allowing me the opportunity to do something I love again — work in the theater. Chris is still easy-going, likable and talented. The students love him and really enjoy his company. It seems like a different lifetime when I directed him at EA-WR. I’m happy and proud to share the theater with him again.”
The EA-WR drama club members have loved the experience and the opportunity to work with faculty and Pearson throughout the rehearsal process of “Our Town.”
“We have a lot of newcomers in the drama club and they’re doing pretty good,” senior co-president Caitlyn Bridgeman said. “The new members and the faculty are getting the hang of things and working to get the routine down. I think having teachers and Dr. Pearson will make this show so much fun for students and our audience. They’re allowing themselves to be put in the same vulnerable situations that the veteran actors have experienced. It’s encouraging to the students and it’s really cool they’re putting themselves out there.”
The production of “Our Town” will run at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22, at the EA-WR auditorium. Tickets are $5 in advance and available from any cast member or from the school, or $6 at the door. Proceeds will benefit the EA-WR Thespian Troop 733 for future productions. The EA-WR drama club is self-funded and gladly will accept donations from community supporters.