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Spring plays to be held at Jackson High School

Cast members from “My Father’s Dragon” rehearse the formation of a dragon using only their bodies and their scripts. The reader’s theater play will be performed at Jackson High School Thursday and Friday. Photos by Jay Forness

Two plays will be performed at Jackson High School this week, before the productions compete at the district speech, debate and theater competition in Ste. Genevieve later this month.

The one-act play “Relative Strangers” and the reader’s theater production of “My Father’s Dragon” will perform in a spring play showcase at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, and Friday, March 10, in the Jackson High School Auditorium.

Both plays feature relatively small casts, with three students in the one act play and 10 featured in the reader’s theater production. Cast members from both plays said this led to more opportunities to explore their characters and staging with their respective directors, Taylor Taylor and Bob Clubbs.

“We’ve all been able to try new things,” Rebekah Mansfield, who plays one of the narrators in “My Father’s Dragon, said. “On our first day of rehearsal, Mr. Clubbs had us improv things and try to come up with something new.”

Riley Ries, who plays the older Marie in “Relative Strangers,” said they had time to try out various directions from Taylor to see which worked the best because they had such a small cast.

Ries said, “We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and incorporate them into the play really quickly,” Ries said. “We have been able to dig deeper into our characters and really understand what their motivations are.”

“Relative Strangers” focuses on two women named Marie, separated by more than 20 years in age, who happen to sit next to each other on a flight to Charleston. The younger Marie, played by Alivia Roach, starts to view the older women next to her as a maternal figure who can fill that gap in her life.

“I tell her to turn the reading light on and say it’s the ‘mother in me’ that made me say that, and she takes that literally,” Ries said.
Roach said her character, who grew up without a mother and is very socially unaware, wants the older Marie to answer all her questions she couldn’t ask her mom.

“She’s very curious about the world because her mother died giving birth to my character,” Roach said. “She is wanting to find someone who can help guide her through life.”

Rounding out the cast is Bailey O’Neal, who plays the flight attendant Virginia. Her character joins in to help the younger Marie persuade the older Marie to fill the mother role, despite the older Marie’s wish to have a peaceful flight before attending her divorce proceedings.

O’Neal said the play, which is comedic in nature, is able to hit on some more poignant themes of family and motherhood.

“Being a reluctant father is super present in the media like in ‘The Mandalorian,’ but I thought it was interesting to see the mother aspect of it and the differences between why you wouldn’t want to be a dad versus why you wouldn’t want to be a mom,” O’Neal said.

All three cast members said the rehearsal process has been especially enjoyable because they are all seniors and have been friends for a long time. Roach said this play has been their “last hurrah.”

“Ever since I moved here from Florida, these have been my people – so this has been such a good experience wrapping up our time together,” Roach said. “We are all seniors and we are all hard workers, so we want to do our very best.”

Jackson High School students Riley Ries and Alivia Roach perform in the one-act play “Relative Strangers” as Marie Harvey and Marie Barrett.

The reader’s theater production, “My Father’s Dragon,” is based on a 1948 children’s book with the same name written by Ruth Styles Gannett. Mansfield’s character tells the story of when her father, Elmer Elevator played by Preston Strothmann, traveled to the dangerous Wild Island in search of a dragon.

“I play her father as a little boy,” Strothmann said. “It’s kind of a flashback story where I go on this adventure through this jungle to rescue this dragon who has been held captive by all these evil animals.”

Most of the cast plays multiple characters, bringing the various talking animals to life. Because it is a reader’s theater production, the cast has to portray the various characters without costumes, makeup or props.

“It’s all about bringing characters out with your voice and finding ways without props and sets to bring out the story,” Trey Lintner said. Lintner plays a lion, tortoise and other animals throughout the play.

Because the play will be performed for competition, the production has to follow strict reader’s theater guidelines. The cast has to perform with their scripts out and they only get six plain blocks as their set. “With reader’s theater, the idea is that you are working with less,” Lintner said.

Mansfield added that they have worked hard to use the limitations to the fullest, such as using their scripts to help create the dragon’s wings or using the blocks to form the island geography. “It’s definitely been a challenge during rehearsals trying to think about how we could make it look like a jungle,” she said.

In addition to Mansfield, Strothmann and Lintner, the cast includes Evie Heinley as the other narrator, Sadie Middleton as the cat who tells Elmer about the island, Genevieve Williams as the watchmen and a boar, Rei Hinkebein as the sailor and a boar, Kelsi Dillingham as the crocodile and a tortoise, Nelson McGuire as the mouse and gorilla and Shandi Rogers as Elmer’s mother.

Strothmann said the play is a true ensemble, with many of the cast members having more lines than he does, even though he is ostensibly playing the main character.

“I really love how involved everyone is,” Strothmann said. “Everyone gets their own parts, but they also work together. The dragon isn’t played by one singular person, but is instead portrayed by a group where everyone forms the dragon out of their bodies.”

Members of both casts said they are excited to bring the plays to the district competition after performing this week at the high school.

“I’m excited to not only be able to perform for more people, but we also get to see what everyone else at other schools are doing,” O’Neal said.

“Ultimately, however it goes, I’m really excited we had the opportunity to do this,” Strothmann said. “For the seniors, this is our last time we get to do something like this as a part of our high school theater department.”

Kirby Gilmore and Caylee Collins are stage managers for “Relative Strangers,” and Cade Gregory and Alec Schwarz are stage managers for “My Father’s Dragon.” Tickets for the performances at the high school, which will be sold at the door, are $5.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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