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Drama department gears up for fall play

Each year audiences are entertained by the fall play presented by the Blackduck Drama Department. Most people find it an enjoyable evening out that highlights the talents of Blackduck students without thinking about the work involved to get that production ready. While the performances of the play last only a few days, the preparation takes months.

Director Jennifer Parker has been directing plays at BHS since 1992. Last year she was joined by Assistant Director Kari Slindee.

In that time, Parker has directed a wide variety of plays, with each type having its own challenges. She says, "Shakespeare has to be presented in a way that makes 16th Century characters meaningful and entertaining today. The musicals take more specific choreography, require more technical expertise with recorded music or a live band and cost more due to royalties. Comedies are difficult because of timing and dramas are difficult because of intensity."

It all begins with choosing a play, which is done the spring before. Parker reads many plays during the year, considering the staging, the strengths of the current drama students, community interest and changing things up from years before.

Once she has chosen the play, Parker rereads it, takes copious notes, counts lines and begins to think about sets, costumes, etc. In the fall auditions are posted and held to select the cast and chorus. Parker said that while talent is important, it is secondary to the student's work ethic and commitment to the activity. She casts students she believes will fit the parts and who will work to "become" their parts.

Rehearsals begin with small groups and individuals working between two to 12 hours a week and students are given deadlines for memorizing their lines. Practices intensify as the weeks continue, with students coming to morning practices to avoid conflicts with cheerleading, football and volleyball.

In the two weeks before the play, there is an intensive time commitment as students put in long hours to be ready for the performance. Dress rehearsals are held after school and often run late into the evening.

The crew is also put together in the fall and leadership positions within the crew decided. As the crew is supposed to be as unobtrusive as possible, the audience often doesn't realize how much they contribute to the production.

Crew members are responsible for sets, sound, lighting, props and prompting. During early rehearsals they work four to six hours a week in planning, building, painting and arranging the sets. Sets are built, props and costumes are worked on, the stage and surrounding area are cleaned and organized, inventory is taken and items such as makeup restocked.

When asked how she lines up sets, costumes and props, Parker responded, "Build and beg!" Besides their own work, the crew takes advantage of community experts to sew costumes and help with sets and often borrow props. Other teachers and their students help with the sets as well. Shopping is part of their job as they hit the Goodwill and other stores to buy items they can't borrow or build.

In addition to the actual staging, Parker has many behind the scene tasks such as publicity, ticket sales, resetting lights and sound, set up, clean up and coordinating with the administration and custodians.

She said the most challenging thing about directing a play is to get all of the elements perfectly coordinated and timed. As the play gets closer, Parker works longer, reaching 6-14 hours a day for the last two weeks.

"It's both intensely difficult and intensely rewarding. There are more elements to staging a play than most people realize and if you do it well, they never will realize, because it looks quite fun, simple and polished. I guess that's the goal!"

This year the Blackduck Drama Department will be presenting Romeo and Juliet Nov. 5-7. If past performances are any indicator, it is an opportunity to see one of Shakespeare's most popular plays that you won't want to miss. And if you watch the play without giving a thought to how it is produced, the director, actors and crew wouldn't want it any other way.