Drama Season Begins Strong with Fall Plays at Ottoson Middle School and Arlington High School

The Arlington Public Schools community had the opportunity to enjoy wonderful theater this fall presented by the talented Ottoson Middle School and Arlington High School thespians. Two plays were presented at OMS on November 4. Our Place by Terry Wayne Gabbard contains five different stories about connection–how we bond with each other and share special places. The stories overlap, some with happy memories and others tragic, but what matters in the end is the sharing we do. OMS English teacher and Director Jenna Medeiros was drawn to the play because of the balance between comedy and serious, emotional topics and the fact that the14 actors are all featured equally. 

The second play, Perfect by Alan Haehnel, is about self-image and the fact that there is no such thing as perfect. The action happens mostly in the memories of the main character, Bethany, and she talks to her reflection. With the exception of a few big moments in the story, the other actors interact only with each other. Ms. Medeiros was drawn to the concept of the play and liked that it had flexible numbers and genders of the actors.

Costumes and staging were very simple for both plays. The biggest challenge for props was whether or not to use a full-size canoe in Our Place. The problem was solved by an inflatable kayak. There were no props needed for Perfect as all the items the characters have are mimed.

The performances involved 36 students, and about six or eight more helped cut and sell tickets and fold and hand-out programs. Ms. Medeiros reports that all participants had a great time. Particularly in the fall, she chooses plays that will challenge them and help them grow. They love being together and respond to the limited roles and rehearsal time, knowing that lots of middle school students don’t get this opportunity. A family is created among both casts, with all the students working and supporting each other fully. This year OMS Special Education teacher Randi Flynn served as an official Assistant Director. She ran many of the rehearsals and had invaluable input into the blocking and costuming choices. Ms. Medeiros says that “These shows would not happen without her.”

This November’s presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream continued the AHS tradition of performing a play by Shakespeare every four years. High school Drama teacher and play Director Michael Byrne thought that a comedy would be appropriate for these times, and he wanted something that would allow the cast and crew to learn how to fully use the new auditorium. Every inch of the beautiful space was used during the production, including actors in the aisles and in seats along the side, and a string quartet in the balcony.

Dismantling structures is a predominant theme in the play, beginning with the young lovers who don’t buy into the hierarchy of their parents’ generation and run away into the woods to remake the rules. The story includes a “play within the play” and the process the inner cast uses to rehearse is very communal, with the director taking suggestions from the actors. Mr. Byrne reports that a director is a pretty modern invention. For hundreds of years, “actor managers” led the way in what is known as a Renaissance run. During the first week of rehearsals, the AHS actors staged the first half of the play on their own and then shared it. The actors got a taste of what it means to make choices based upon the text and their own points of view. This process helped the performers to understand and dismantle the historical hierarchy in theater. It also gave the community of performers and stage managers ownership of their work. Inviting them into the process and honoring their voices resulted in a wonderful, healthy, and community-building process.   

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very funny play, but the humor can sometimes be lost in the denseness of the language. Physicalizing the humor enabled the actors to invite the audience into the world of the story. Building the choreography for the fight scenes was another collaborative process. This was led by fight choreographer Nathan Malin, a successful actor and 2017 AHS graduate. Another AHS graduate, Nancy McCarthy (2011), did the costume design.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that uses the idea of going into a “green world” in order to learn something about yourself. Mr. Byrne says that Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism describes this as “...the archetypal function of literature in visualizing the world of desire, not as an escape from ‘reality’, but as the genuine form of the world that human life tries to imitate.” In keeping with this theme, AHS will present Into the Woods, another play that uses this motif, as the spring musical. This will be presented on March 31, and April 1 and 2.   

The next OMS theatrical performance is the musical Guys and Dolls on April 28 and 29. The photographs of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that accompany this article were taken by AHS parent Kim Kapner.