Student-directed one acts allow for artistic expression


Photo by Andrew Haughey

The cast and crew of “Relative Strangers,” “Press at 5” and “Driver’s Test” take a bow after the 7 p.m. show on February 18.

     For high school theater participants around the country, putting on a play or musical can often be artistically restricting. A piece is typically chosen by a director — often a teacher — who then casts auditioning students wherever they deem fit. Students are able to perform and express their love for the art both on and off the stage, fulfilling roles such as actors, sound and noise producers and set builders, but are often under the supervision of their director. Student-Produced One Acts, a project by Theatre Fishers, flips this power around to create an environment where students are in charge of the production and performance of an entire act.

     Senior Zach Amrhien, director and writer of “Press at 5” — an act that follows the president’s struggles in office after his divorce — said that the opportunity to share something that he had created was one he cherished. 

     “There’s a difference between writing something that is very sacred to yourself and seeing the words become real,” Amrhien said. “It is very edifying and fulfilling for me.”

     Amrhien devised the plot to showcase the wide variety of often over-the-top emotions that people experience when going through a breakup. With an act that was heavily involved with feelings, it was important to Amrhien that the plot reflect exactly what he wanted. 

     “Don’t write it [a play or act] for anyone but yourself,” Amrhien said. “You can’t write to please everyone. You can’t write for other people. You need to satisfy yourself. Obviously, take into account what other people are saying, but write the story that you want to tell and inform yourself using your own emotions and your own experiences.”

     For junior Levi Johnson, director of “Driver’s Test” — an act in which a 16-year-old girl taking her driver’s test is directed by her instructor to perform illegal road maneuvers — deciding which emotions to express through the act amid various obstacles was one of the most challenging parts.

     “When we first realized that we were going to use the advanced theater class [for actors], I actually had a different one act,” Johnson said. “I had to reroute my thinking of what I wanted to show in my one act. I went from a news report to a driver’s test. Life is all about adapting. I think overall that that’s the theme of the play.”

     The way in which students get involved in theater can vary wildly. For Johnson, the process was a way for him to get more in touch with who he really was and overcome adversity in his own life.

     “A long, long time ago, when I was two, I had brain surgery because of a medical condition I have,” Johnson said. “Essentially, my cerebrum is connected to my spinal cord and it is not supposed to do that. It affected a lot of parts of my life. I was in speech therapy for six years, among lots of other things, because I have a speech impediment. In junior high, a lot of people pointed out my speech impediment because I said a lot of words incorrectly, and it doesn’t help that I speak fast.”

     This medical condition and its effects are what drove Johnson to join a theater class, mock trial and a multitude of other courses and extracurriculars his freshman year to improve his public speaking skills. 

     “I got tired of people telling me that I couldn’t do something,” Johnson said. “That ultimately led me into directing, because directing is a lot of public speaking and giving advice.”

     Junior Andromeda Dundore, director of “Relative Strangers” — the story of two strangers befriending each other on a flight — originally discovered theater in the same way as many do, through a poster.

     “[I] saw a flyer for a show, went and saw it, and loved it,” Dundore said. “I’ve been with the theater program for a while now and I have no regrets. It really is an amazing community.”

     One of the most important concepts that Dundore drew from directing their one act was that of collaboration between them and their actors.

     “It’s all about making connections and being stubborn in what you want, while also making room for your actors’ freedom,” Dundore said. “My job as a director is to push an actor to be the best they could possibly be, and the job of the actor is to make my vision come to life.”

     All of the directors urged anyone interested to get involved in theater by auditioning for a play, signing up for classes or attending performances.

     “If anybody who was not originally into theater is thinking about doing theater or anything with public speaking, for that matter, go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?” Johnson said.