A broken-down haunted house, a woman in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and a story of homelessness. These are the subjects of three one-act plays the advanced acting students of Payson High School will perform for Rim Country audiences this week.
"Directing is definitely the experience of my theater career," said Heather Buchanan, director of "The Blues" an ensemble piece about homeless people.
"I have always wanted to direct since my junior year when I saw Billy Chester direct a play," she said. "When you are on stage as an actor you have to do what the director says although you may think, I would do this differently."
In preparation for a college major in digital media production, Buchanan has watched how drama teachers John and Kathy Siler bring a script to stage.
Now that she gets to watch all the action from the director's chair, she has learned that "Sometimes you have to be stern with your best friends because they aren't listening to you."
She is grateful for the advice from the Silers and Tom Walling, who helped her design the set.
PHS Drama: One Act Plays
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 4 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: In the Studio Theatre behind the Payson High School auditorium
Cost: $4/adults, $3/seniors and students
Note: All the plays are family-friendly but, in consideration of families who may bring younger children, the two lighter plays, "Carol A Christmas" and "Ha Ha House" will be performed first. "The Blues" will be performed after intermission. Each play is 20 to 30 minutes long.
"The Blues" is the play the drama department took to the thespian conference.
"At conference you perform in front of all theatre kids so they know when you cover-up for a mistake," Buchanan said. "I told my actors, theater is supposed to be fun. If you have fun with it and not be too stressed it will be good."
With all the productions going on in the auditorium the students are getting a chance to learn close-up sets and close-up lighting in the more intimate Studio Theatre, the smaller performance venue separate and behind the main auditorium.
A cardboard box of shoes for "The Blues" was moved so the actors and techies rehearsing "Carol A Christmas" would not trip over them.
And last week the sets and props for "Ha Ha House" were in the process of being painted.
Aubreigh Brunschwig directs "Ha Ha House."
When their car breaks down teens try to phone for help in a broken-down house that is supposedly haunted.
"There are all kinds of myths and urban legends about "Ha Ha House," Brunschwig said. "Supposedly the man who used to live there murdered his wife. The kids (also) hear about a treasure that might be hidden somewhere in the house. It is a fun plot."
Although she loves that she gets to see a creative work unfold, decide which costumes to use and how the set will look, "directing is harder than you might think."
In a play so filled with characters, when one person doesn't know their lines or needs to get a character down and everyone else is good with their lines, Brunschwig, like her fellow director, has discovered she must be assertive.
"I feel sorry for directors I have had in the past," she said. "I'm going to learn my lines a lot sooner from now on."
"After the 16th I am a regular actor again," said "Carol A Christmas" director Shay Larby.
Every time there is a full cast run-through Mr. Siler sits in with the director and points out what could be made better.
"Since we are first-time directors, what he points out helps us a lot," Larby said.
"In my play there is an awkward kissing scene and I didn't know how to block it. Mr Siler (told the actors) ‘put your foot behind her instead of in front of her and instead of actually backing away just move your head,' so it is little thing I didn't think of having the actors do," Larby said.
Larby, a veteran of the high school stage, is not hesitant to give her actors direction either.
For instance when one character pushes another "it is not a feather blowing through the wind, you have to make your body more tense and show some effort, plus do it in a way that looks real, but not so hard the other actor trips," she said.
For Larby, the best part of directing is seeing everyone do everything they can to make your ideas come true because there are so many things that people want to do in the class. They contribute their ideas and creates kind of a melting pot. "If they have a good idea I will let them do it," Larby said.
We have "an incredible talent pool" the Silers agreed.
They cast all 22 students in the advanced acting class and 18 have more than one role, partly because the plays are more ensemble shows with a few spotlighted characters.
"Student directors are each responsible for one play, so the real challenge this year lies in the actors who have roles in more than one play," Kathy Siler said.
The versatility an actor must have to create totally separate characters with voice and body movements takes a lot of practice.
Junior and second-year advanced actor, Jen Sandoval has one character in "Blues," four in "Carol A Christmas" and one in "Ha Ha House."
"My favorite role is Pat Past in "Carol" because she is loud and flamboyant and that fits my personality, so it is the most fun.
The hardest character to portray is in ‘Blues.'
"I have to portray an illegal immigrant who has to leave all her family and possessions behind and her cruel treatment."
Sandoval has done research on the Internet for her role. She participated in Hands Across the Border, a week-long PHS field trip to Mexico so she is incorporating the accents she learned on that trip into her character.
Next up is the Spring production of "Treasure Island."