Yorktown Drama Students Learn Nuances of One-Person Shows


(Tuesday, May 8, 2007 6:05 PM EDT)

Being alone on stage for 30 minutes is demanding even for professional actors, but seniors in Yorktown High School's theater arts program have taken up the challenge.

As part of Yorktown's Theater IV class requirements, students must choose to play an historical or fictional character and create a 30-minute show about that character, writing and directing the entire production, from coordinating lighting and sound, to picking their costumes and props.

In past years, students only performed their work at the school, but this year, they have had the chance to perform at the Comedy Spot in Ballston Common Mall.

Students chose their characters in a number of different ways.

Some, like Trevor Snelling, who chose to play Rasputin, used the seniors' projects from last year as an inspiration. Others like Derek Carey, who picked Satan as his character, just wanted to play the character they thought was the most interesting. And a number of students used the trial-and-error approach to see which character fit best for them.

Yorktown's director of theater arts, Carol Cadby, holds the bar high with this project, since it is modeled on students' final project at a theater conservatory.

But she said “the program is very sequential” and the students have been prepped for this project over their four years in the department, through similar, shorter projects.

The project also fits into Cadby's thinking that everyone should have the chance to play an integral role in the school's productions.

“All students should have the opportunity, regardless of their talent level, to be exposed to what theater has to offer,” she said.

Although one-person shows may seem less conducive to collaboration and cooperation among the students than a play would be, the project still closely follows Cadby's emphasis on a collaborative approach to acting.

When students perform for the class, “we write each other notes and suggestions. There's a little bit of everyone in each one of our shows,” said Em Thrasher, who chose Princess Diana as her character.

“Everything we do here is based on an ensemble mentality,” Thrasher said. “The motto here is ‘it's not about you.'”

“Even though it seems like [the one-person shows] are our shining moment, I think we got closer working on this project than any other show,” said John Houston, who chose to portray Muhammad Ali. “We all worked together, and we all care so much about everybody's piece succeeding.”

Many of the Theater IV students have thrown themselves into their shows, working on their scripts, rehearsing their lines and not eating or sleeping. Some may go on to act professionally, and others will pursue other interests, but all of them said they learned a great deal from their 30-minute show and overall theater experience at Yorktown.

“I don't have aspirations to do acting professionally, but I've done it for four years because it has helped me develop who I am, find passions and has helped me develop what I do want to do,” said Stephanie Gordon, who performs as Anne Sullivan in her show.

The one-person show “is the scariest thing I've ever done, and now that I've conquered that, I have more confidence in other things in my life,” Gordon said.

Members of Yorktown High School's theater-arts program recent performed one-person shows at the Comedy Spot at Ballston Common Mall.
(Photo by James Coates)

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