No kiddie stuff here.
The students of Bainbridge Performing Arts’ Theatre School will stage two one-act plays as part of this year’s “Teen Lab” program; very different stories dealing with equally timely topics.
In “Selfie,” written by Bradley Hayward and directed for BPA by Ann Wilkinson Ellis, it’s senior year and problems are mounting for a group of high school students as they prepare for the future.
Facing bullies, parents, pressure, sickness, mortality, and their own self-judgment, the characters search for ways to portray themselves so as to stand out. As they document their year, one click at a time, they come to realize life is not about what other people see — it’s about the pictures they have of themselves.
“It’s truly a snapshot of their hardships and what they’re going through and where they transform,” Ellis said. “Everyone sort of feels like an outcast at times.”
The show boasts a cast of eight young actors who, over the course of the program, say they’ve become extraordinary tight-knit.
“I just recently moved to the island [and] BPA has always felt like a second family to me, but this cast in particular has felt really close,” said Celeste DeRonghe, 13.
“I think acting and theater school itself, it’s given me friends outside of school … that I can always rely on. And also just acting in general and being in an acting class has given me skills to portray confidence and find more confidence within myself, which is really great and does help me a lot in school.”
The play itself was also a hit with the cast.
“I like the fact that all of us, as separate characters, kind of have our own story arc, and we all have very different objectives and we all kind of have our own story, but it’s so intricately tied together to make one big story,” said Samantha Byergo, 14.
“It just works well together, and I think it’s really great for a theater school in particular, because it gives us an opportunity to do a lot of character work that we wouldn’t otherwise get to do in certain other shows.”
The idea of curating your life through digital entries, carefully selected representations of you and your experiences, is one Samantha and her peers understand intrinsically, but that she said she’d never thought much about before being in this play.
“It almost seems like people come up with fake moments to post online,” she said. “When I get together with friends, often what will happen is we’ll be like, ‘Oh, guys, let’s get together and take photos,’ and we’ll figure out how we want the photo to look, go to a specific place just to take a photo versus being at the place and being like, ‘Hey, we should take a photo.’
“It’s like these kind of forced moments, and then the fun moments that actually happen oftentimes, don’t get captured by photos,” Samantha said. “‘Selfie’ kind of shows how everyone is so kind of alone and in their own world; it’s kind of this fake connectivity through all of us through social media. We’re all connected all of the time, but at the same time all of us are experiencing loneliness pretty extremely and going through our own problems very, very much on our own.”
While “Selfie” is looking to shed light on serious issues, the other half of this year’s offerings is decidedly darker — literally and figuratively.
“Lockdown,” written by Douglas Craven and directed by Pete Benson, BPA’s Director of Education, takes place entirely in a darkened classroom where eight students are huddled during the titular terror, not knowing if it’s just a drill or an actual emergency. Left alone, they begin to obsessively to wonder if it’s a real event or an exercise, and if it’s safer to stay or run.
“It’s definitely an intense show and has a lot of moments that could be very laughable but they’re not,” said cast member Brearley Jayne Curfman, 13.
Being one of the students who recently actually experienced such an event, she knows perfectly well how un-funny crouching in the dark can be. First a student at a private school, and later schooled at home, last year she took an elective at a public middle school here on Bainbridge and found herself on campus in the thick of an emergency lockdown — a very frightened fish out of water.
“I’d never been to public school before, that was like the first time,” Brearley Jayne said. “I was like, ‘What is going on?’ because I’ve never been in a lockdown drill, never anything.
“No one knew anything,” she recalled. “We just got shoved in a little closet and told to be quiet. So it was intense.”
Returning BPA player Josh Moff, 16, also in “Lockdown,” said that for as timely as the play is, it’s actually a bit of a tragic (perhaps unintended) history lesson for those in the know.
“This is a bit of an older play; it was written just after Columbine happened so it was kind of when this whole school shooting thing started to happen more and more often,” he said. “I think what the writer is trying to get across is just trying to cause change, because to show it from the classroom perspective isn’t what the media really shows a lot of the time.”
Speaking of writers, unlike in year’s past, when the featured plays were often written by BPA students, this year’s works are from professional playwrights, a deliberate choice Benson said is necessary for the growth of theater folk at a certain age.
“Both of these plays are really well written,” said Benson. “In the past we’ve done a lot of devised plays, which I think totally have their place. I think that’s a valuable lesson to learn, but I think there’s a lot that can be learned from a published and vetted script that has had success and you know that it has a place to go to.
“[It] gives the kids something of quality to work on and there’s usually a lot more depth to the script,” he added. “There’s more nuanced layers rather than [with] teenagers especially — and this is not a bad thing — [who] have a tendency to be straightforward and plainspoken.”
Both plays play with format as well as subject, with “Selfie” utilizing actual photos taken by the cast and crew and “Lockdown” being framed by an illuminating timing technique.
“The convention of lighting throughout the play is that a lighter is lit and time passes every time the lighter passes [to another character], so like a half hour goes by and then a new scene is lit by the lighter,” Benson said.
Also, “Lockdown” will be ending with a series of monologues written by actual local students about their experience with recent real world lockdowns.
“Selfie” and “Lockdown” will be presented as separate complimentary shows at different times. “Selfie” will be staged at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 18; Saturday, April 20; Friday, April 26; and 3 p.m. Saturday, April 27. “Lockdown” will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday, April 19; Thursday, April 25; Saturday, April 27; and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 28.