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Marshall theater students get back into the act

Tiger Theatre presenting ‘Marvin’s Room’ and four short one-act plays

Photo by Cindy Votruba Zoe Vorbach and Rose Hanson rehearse a scene from “Marvin’s Room,” which opens Friday night.

MARSHALL — It’s been nearly a year and a half since theater students at Marshall High School have performed on their stage.

And with live theater, said MHS English teacher Dan Smith, who is the director for the upcoming production, said one of the recommendations for live theater is to produce a show with smaller casts so that physical distancing can be practiced on stage. So he chose a show with a cast of nine.

“However, more than 30 students came to audition, so I wanted to find a way to give students who weren’t able to be on our stage this fall an opportunity this spring,” Smith said. He said they’re also working on four short one-act plays. “Each of the one acts is a ’10-minute play,’ which is a genre of theater used a lot in education. They’re all compelling scenes that I chose kind of at random to give kids an opportunity.”

MHS’ Tiger Theatre is presenting “Marvin’s Room,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Schwan Community Center for the Performing Arts. One-act performances are “Magic Eight Ball” and “The Memory Box” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, “Draw A Lion” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and “Okoboji” at 2 p.m. Sunday. There will be a showcase of all four one-acts at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Smith said he and the students have felt the impact of having lived a full year without the kind of busy schedule that play rehearsals create.

“We’ve also noticed that memorizing lines has been more challenging, because that’s a skill that we haven’t put to use in more than a year,” he said. “Having said that, it has been an absolute joy to be working in the theater again. I think that all of us have forgotten how much we missed working in the theater and missed the natural camaraderie that comes along with a play cast.” He said the kids are working really hard, but there has been a lot of laughter at rehearsals.

Zoe Vorbach, one of the actors in the show, said it’s definitely taken some getting used to getting back on the stage.

“But I think overall it’s just been exciting to be back at doing something like this that we’ve been missing for so long,” she said.

Ryan Schroeder, who plays Hank in “Marvin’s Room,” said they are all definitely working on getting their groove back.

“It was kind of a trial by fire with our tight schedule, but overall it was a welcomed return,” Schroeder said.

Vorbach also agrees that one challenge with rehearsal is memorizing lines.

“This show puts a lot of responsibility on each individual character, and having been away from acting for so long it’s been a lot of work to get used to putting in that kind of effort and repetition when it comes to lines,” she said.

Schroeder said they’ve been set back about a week because of COVID.

“We had a bumpy start and a few of our actors did their lines with the rest of the cast over the Internet due to them being quarantined,” Schroeder said.

Smith selected “Marvin’s Room” because “it’s a perfect play for the crazy time we’ve lived through in the past year,” he said.

“It is a serious play that is very touching but at the same time very funny and warm,” he said. “It tells the story of a middle-aged woman who lives in Florida where she has been caring for her ailing father and elderly aunt for the past 20 years. Early in the play, she is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. In an effort to find a match for a bone marrow transplant that might save her life, she is reunited with an estranged sister who lives with her two sons in Ohio.”

It’s a beautiful play that is about finding joy and laughter in the midst of hard times, “which is exactly what we’ve all been doing for the past year,” Smith said.

Vorbach describes the show as hilarious, but not a comedy.

“There are tons of moments that surprise you and make you laugh, and seconds later it might be making you cry,” she said.

The cast understands the emotional content of the play extremely well, Smith said.

“We’ve had multiple conversations about what is happening in each moment of each scene, and the work they’ve done to develop characters shows on stage,” Smith said. “It’s a very honest play, which can be hard to achieve on stage, but they’ve put in the work and are creating honest characters. They’ve also brought a lot of joy to their roles. Each of the characters in the play is a very likable person, even in their darker moments, and I think that shows on stage.”

As an audience, we like these people, Smith said.

“The ‘villain’ isn’t another character on stage, it’s a disease that has impacted so many of our lives,” he said. “These characters are doing the best they can in tough times and even though we might not get the positive outcome we want, there is a strong feeling that everything is going to be OK, and these people will emerge, which is something that I think a lot of us are hoping for this spring and summer.”

Vorbach portrays Bessie in “Marvin’s Room” and describes her character as “pretty low-key.”

“She’s not a person looking for lots of attention or recognition, she prefers to just live her life,” Vorbach said.

Schroeder said his character, Hank,“is a delinquent who learns to grow closer to his family throughout the play.”

“I prepared for this role by studying the lines and having conversations about the emotional interworking of the play with my fellow actors and directors,” Schroeder said.

Each of the one acts will have an opportunity to perform once before a performance of “Marvin’s Room” as an “opener” and then the students will perform a showcase of all four of them on Saturday afternoon, Smith said. Vorbach added that the one-acts are “really well done” and encourages people to come see the performances.

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