Students can learn a lot of valuable lessons while participating in high school theater programs. Sometimes, it can involve a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For members of the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School one-act play, advancing to the 2012 Minnesota State High School League One Act Play Festival was an amazing opportunity. But getting to meet Forrest Musselman, the author of "Chipped," the play RTR performed this year, was a phenomenal experience, they said. Musselman watched RTR's performance at state and met with the crew backstage afterward.
"It was really cool meeting him," said Taylor Thooft, one of three RTR seniors in this year's play. "He liked some of the things we added and incorporated in our version, so it was really cool."
Submitted photo by Tyler Tribute
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School was one of eight Class A schools to advance to the 2012 state one-act contest recently with its version of “Chipped.” Participants include: front row — Michelle Kuhlman, Carly Fritz, Haley Christensen, Ryley Maisch, Rachael Blake, Illana Peter, Brianna Gilbertson, Monica Buchert and back row — Josh Christensen, Taylor Brust, Taylor Thooft, Luke Wiering, William Dunblazier and Will Petersen. Not pictured were: Katie Bump, Jasmine Reyes and director Neil Witte.
Neil Witte, RTR director for 18 years, said the author was very complimentary toward them.
"He loved what we did with it,"?Witte said. "The kids were nervous but excited to meet him."
"Chipped" is a fast-paced comedy that satirizes society's relationship with computers, questioning whether people control computers, or if computers control people.
"It's a satire about a television show that broadcasts online," Thooft said. "It's about computers taking over the world. I'm an overbearing dad who doesn't think my daughter is taking her online video game seriously."
Thooft has been in theater since his sophomore year but has never participated in a comedy.
"The last couple of years, we've done dramatic pieces, so it was nice to have a change and do something fun and upbeat," he said. "We could all just get a bunch of energy built up and go on stage. It was really fun."
While RTR is known for its talented theater department, Witte said the play they selected this year initially proved to be a challenge because of their youthful cast.
"This is one of the most technically-difficult productions we've done," he said. "There's a lot that goes into the lighting and the sound. So many graduated that were our tech people, so we had all new freshmen. It was a challenge going in with inexperienced people, but they did a great job."
The one-act crew consisted of 16 students, including 12 actors on stage and four working on the lights and sound.
"We all got along, like one big family," senior Katie Bump said. "There wasn't one person who didn't like another. I feel so blessed to have such an amazing cast to work with. They're sweet and funny in their own quirky way. It was awesome."
Bump said the younger students were naturals and caught on very quickly. Having been involved in theater her freshman year and not the past two years, Bump was glad she returned to the stage, though there were some challenges.
"I have four different characters in my role," she said. "They're all very different."
With most plays, it seems as they only come together right near the end. Thooft said that was certainly the case this year.
"The week before subsections, I was starting to freak out," Thooft said. "We had a lot to get done yet. But we put in a lot of work in that week leading up to competition and it came together really well. It just all clicked. I was very confident that we had a good show, that we could bring it."
In addition to asking characters to sustain a high level of energy from beginning to end, Witte said the choreography was also challenging.
"There's a lot of timed and choreographed numbers that took many hours," he said. "There were certain scenes where everybody had to be doing the same movement at the same time. If one person doesn't do it right, they stand out."
Witte felt the students gave stronger performances as each level of competition rose, though there was some nervousness that came out during sections.
"We had seven new people this year," he said. "They don't know about the acoustics, the room on the stage or even where the curtains are going to be. Those are things you have to adjust to. I could see the nervousness come out at the section level, where the stakes were so high."
RTR advanced to state for the third time in history. The school advanced in 1999 for "Flowers for Algernon" and again in 2006 with the performance of "The Lottery."
"Our kids gave us the best show they performed," Witte said. "They performed well. We didn't star, but not very many people do. They were the only group to get a standing ovation both days, though."
Thooft said it was an amazing experience to perform at the O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine's University in St. Paul.
"It's beautiful, with a massive balcony and a great design," he said. "We actually had quite a few people come support us, too. It was incredible performing on the stage."
Bump said she'll take poise and presence away from her participation in theater.
"The way I carry myself on stage, I have to be confident," she said. "You learn to hold yourself very well. I think I'll be able to project that in my future in life."
Witte believes that learning how to take constructive criticism will also help students learn how to improve themselves.
"Confidence, eye contact and projection are some of the things they'll take from theater," he said. "Learning how to take criticism to improve yourself is a great skill in life to learn. I can help you get a job someday."
While the competition is completed for the season, RTR students will give three more performances, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 5 p.m. dinner theater on Sunday. The finale also features two additional plays, which gives experience to countless other students who want to be involved in theater.
"We do two other plays, just to get more kids involved," Witte said. "There are only so many kids you can get involved with the competition piece. We often get more kids out for theater than we do for the volleyball team."
While Witte has seen some schools drop their one-act plays because of budgeting, he feels RTR's is self-sustaining.
"With the dinner theaters, we make enough money to run the program," he said. "It's one way to bring in revenue so we don't have to worry about getting cut."