Grover's Corners, the fictional New Hampshire town where Our Town was set over a century ago, may not be all that different from Richardson or other North Dallas communities - even today in the twenty-first century.
Prestonwood Christian Academy (PCA) is continuing the tradition of professional-quality student theater productions at Richardson’s Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Dr., with the classic Thornton Wilder play, to be performed Nov. 6 through Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets visit The Eisemann Center.
“I was interested in doing a well-known drama, and Our Town is so rich with its message that I felt it would be good for our theatre students and our audiences,” said Pam Hurt Director and Upper School Theater Teacher, Prestonwood Christian Academy. “It is my goal to add variety into our theatre schedule every year so that by the time a student graduates they will have four years of various theatrical experiences.”
The story, which was first performed in 1938, focuses on Grover's Corners between the years 1901 and 1913, and on the Webb and Gibbs families whose teenage children, played by Avery Rudd as Emily Webb and Dylan Freeman as George Gibbs, fall in love. Hannah Mathes, as the stage director, offers a long view of the trajectory of lives in the town. Other major roles include Dr. Frank Gibbs, performed by Brody Hill; his wife, Julia Gibbs, performed by Paige Price; Myrtle Webb, performed by Kendall Brewer; and her husband Charles Webb performed by Michael Walsh; and Luella Soames, played by Mackenzie Meadows.
The play includes 35 students in the cast and 15 in the crew from grades 5-12 and the students have been hard at work since school started back in August. They also have been instrumental in the various production elements including building sets, securing props and working on hair and make-up. And since Wilder’s play includes a church choir, the students had to hone their skills as hymn singing as well.
Tuesday night, backstage was abuzz during dress rehearsal at The Eisemann Center. The air was filled with anticipation as the cast chattered with excitement, walked the halls practicing lines or fine-tuned makeup in the dressing room.
Parent Volunteers Act As Backstage Fairy Godmothers
Through the commotion of it all, was a group of parent volunteers working tirelessly to help the kids navigate their way through this major production. Their meticulous attention to detail and blurring ability to transform the students into character reminded me of fairy godmothers busily working their magic on the Our Town cast.
PCA parents head up certain crews such as Food Services, Hair & Makeup and Costumes. “They really commit themselves to professionalism and bring such excellence to the production,” said Hurt.
The director explains that students work alongside the parent volunteers to learn how the different production areas operate. “If a parent in a key leadership position has a child about to graduate, they are so good about training the parents of younger students to take over their area. It is really a nicely oiled machine with fantastic parent commitment and support,” said Hurt.
Lori Rudd has been involved with Prestonwood productions for years in support of her daughter Avery and the other cast members.
“Being actively involved backstage with costumes gives me a chance to get to know the students in the cast better, as well as the parents,” said Rudd. “That helps to promote an overall community and family environment in the PCA theatre. Volunteering also gives us a chance to invest in these young people and it shows that we believe in them. I want to show the cast, crew, director and volunteers that they are all making a difference, and everyone is needed and contributes to making a performance a success,” she said.
Like Rudd, Elizabeth Ann Sappington also became a backstage theater volunteer in support of her daughter, Madeline, and her participation has grown over the years.
“The best thing about my parental involvement by far has been the people,” said Sappington. “I have had the privilege of watching my daughter and others kids grow up in this theatre department. I have seen all of their hard work and watched them pour out their souls on the stage. Best of all, I have been able to mentor and encourage these kids while serving them in the makeup room and backstage. And while I have been touching their lives, they have been touching mine, and that to me is priceless.”
Although the volunteers serve as the backbone of the production, the students definitely raise the bar with their professional quality, jaw-dropping performances. The show features so many talented actors and a top-notch production that the audience will easily forget that they are watching a student ensemble that could rival many adult cast performances.
So what are some of the poignant moments that moved me? Lines like this one, spoken by the young Emily in the third act: 'Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?'
The audience will leave hugging their families - guaranteed.
Our Town, performed by Prestonwood Christian Academy, is open to all ages Nov.6-8. For ticket information visit The Eisemann Center.