Students at Oran learn the drama of staging a play

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Huddled in a circle of wooden desks, 17 students listen intently as another student reads lines from a small, yellow book.

"What happened to your volume?" the teacher asks.

So he stands up and gets louder as he reads the lines, a little surprised by the amount of text he sees as he flips to the next page.

Welcome to drama rehearsal at Oran High School.

It's an informal crowd -- some students sit on the floor inside the circle, two girls are wearing house slippers -- gathered for the first read-through of the upcoming student drama at Oran High School.

In a school without a stage and a nearly 15-year hiatus from student dramas, Madeline DeJournette helped bring about a revival of the theatre at Oran.

An English teacher, DeJournette sponsors the school's drama club. For the past three years, the club has put on one performance each year, usually a comedy or one or two-act play.

This year, she left the play selection up to two students -- senior Sam DeReign and junior Travis Randolph.

"I let them choose it before I even read it," DeJournette said. Within a day or two, the pair had even cast the play, "Whodunit and To Whom."

As DeReign, who plays the lead character Harold, reads through his lines, students flip the pages of the playbook, following along. Some have already highlighted their lines.

When one of the actors isn't able to come to rehearsals, another student reads that part. So there are a few laughs when Matt Seyer reads the part of a female character.

A flubbed line draws another giggle from across the room.

As DeReign reads his lines, he discovers modern references to things that wouldn't have existed in the 1940s when the play is set. So a remark about Michael Jordan has to be changed to name another athlete, though few students could quickly name a replacement, and a musical reference will require a change to Bob Hope, who students knew would have been popular during the 1940s.

As they read the script there are other questions, too.

"What's a stoolie?" one boy asks. DeJournette explains it would be like a narc today.

"What's a fandango?" Again DeJournette explains, this time about the Spanish dance.

Much of her role is to act as consultant. This is a student production and she lets them have the reins.

With a cast of about 20 students, it's often hard to schedule rehearsals and read-throughs, juggling between sports and yearbook. Last year the entire production was scheduled around basketball games and practices because most of the cast played on the school team, she said.

And everyone is vying for the same space. There isn't a stage for the drama club to use, so when it is time for dress rehearsals and staging, they have to build their own in the gymnasium. But they have to wait for volleyball practice and basketball games to end before they can claim their spot.

Working on a tight schedule can be tough, DeJournette said. But that's also a benefit: Everybody has to pitch in to help. The home economics classes help sew costumes and decorate the stage. The art classes help construct the backdrops and stage scenes. The band instructor helps with special effects, lighting and music.

The student cast has less than two months to perfect their performances -- learning about delivery, volume, staging and memorizing lines.

The characters were cast based on students' personality. "We just chose them from the way they act in their life," said DeReign.

Next: We'll catch up with the cast to see how rehearsals are progressing.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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