"It's a once upon a time, once in a lifetime show," according to Payson High School Drama Department press agent Elizabeth Goodale.
She's referring to "Jerry the Katler," the first theatrical production of the year and Kathy Siler's first play as the new PHS drama teacher. Siler replaced her husband, John Siler, who retired at the end of the last school year.
"Jerry the Katler," a play set in a time of magic and fairy tales, tells the story of Nell, the young heiress to the throne of a little kingdom.
"When the king can't produce an heir, the priestess and general want to just take over and rule the kingdom," Siler said. "But then the former queen dies and the new queen is soon with child. The priestess casts a spell to make the baby stillborn, but it goes awry, causing Nell to be born with a special affliction."
Nell has an imaginary friend who is a Katler. While neither Siler nor Goodale will reveal what a Katler is, Siler explains what he does for Nell, who is played by senior Lindsay Lashbrook.
"He teaches her a lot about friendship, loyalty and getting through difficult times with cheerfulness," Siler said.
Mick Stern plays the Katler, who only speaks in rhyme.
"There's lots of funny stuff -- slapstick humor and comedy bits and plenty of swordfighting," Siler said. John Siler, who is assisting Kathy this year, has extensive experience teaching swordfighting.
The production, which runs Thursday through Saturday at the PHS auditorium, marks the Arizona premier of "Jerry the Katler," a play the drama students first encountered when a group of them attended the International Thespian Conference with 3,000 high school students from around the world in June on the campus of the University of Nebraska.
"It's the first time we've gone," Siler said. "It was absolutely incredible. We attended two main stage shows every day for six days, and there were workshops all day and one-act play marathons in two different theaters."
"Jerry the Katler" was one of the main stage plays, and the PHS students fell in love with it.
"It was performed by students from an Alabama high school, and it was written by their drama teacher, Roy Hudson," Siler said. "When we got back, I wrote to him, and he agreed to let us do it."
The PHS production is now a candidate to be performed at the Arizona State Thespian Conference, Goodale said.
"Each year, three schools are chosen out of the entire state to perform their two-act main stage shows ... and the Payson High School thespian troupe is honored to even be considered," she said.
The three schools will be selected Oct. 18.
"We have to keep it in rehearsal until then," Siler said.
Besides Lashbrook and Stern, other key roles in the PHS production of "Jerry the Katler" are played by Bryan Jones, Bekah Sandoval, Christina Culligan, Sam Strothman, Rick Welker, Jenny Cohen, Jared Winebrenner, Miko Hilgendorf and Ashley Eckstein. Jeremy Ruff is the stage manager.
Thursday and Saturday performances of "Jerry the Katler" are at 7:30 p.m., with a Friday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets, available at the door, are $4 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens, and free for members of the International Thespian Society.
The play is suitable entertainment for the entire family, Goodale said.