The students who act in Morris Community High School’s plays are a close-knit group who have learned to work together to entertain with some pretty remarkable drama.
The high school’s fall play, “The Crucible,” by Arthur Miller, however, opens tonight with two seniors and one junior who have never held roles in the fall play before.
For one, senior Adam Skelton, the opportunity to play one of the leads in the drama came out of the blue. One of the cast members had to drop out about a month into rehearsal, and Adam was given the part. He had only half the time the other actors had to learn the lines, learn the staging, and essentially, learn to act.
“I had wanted to act since last year when I saw the play,” Adam said. “It looked like fun, but we were on vacation during the auditions.”
But when he was offered the part a month later, he jumped at it.
“It was enticing,” he said of the role. “It was too good an opportunity to say no to.”
The hardest part for him has been learning his lines, which are extensive. It’s also a challenge to fit in the time, he said. Adam is also active in the high school band, community band, Mathletes, Scholastic Bowl, Science Club, Yearbook and the Media Club. He’s also enrolled in an online computer maintenance technology course at GAVC.
The other students and drama coach and teacher Andrea Gustafson have been helping him with his lines and learning the craft of acting, he said.
“It’s all so new to me,” he said, “but they’ve been really helpful and really friendly. I think it’s going to be very gratifying to do this play.”
Adam’s character is Reverend Samuel Parris, who is minister of Salem, Mass., during the witch trials in the 17th century. The 1953 Arthur Miller play is a dramatization of real events that took place during those dark times where women could be put to death on charges of witchery.
Miller wrote the play during the McCarthy era when the government worked to root out so-called communists from the country — what many chastised as a kind of modern day witch hunt.
The play was chosen by Gustafson, who said it is a deep subject with many layers. MCHS juniors read the play each year, so upperclassman will have an even better appreciation for the work.
“I really like it,” she said of The Crucible, “and it’s a really challenging play. It’s so dramatic, and we have a very strong group of kids in it, especially my seniors, many of whom want to go on to theater after high school.”
Gustafson said the play is proving to be a challenge, given its serious subject matter and the amount of lines to learn. It’s made for a lot of good conversation among the students, she said, with its political and religious implications.
“I have great dedication of my kids,” she said. “They were ready for such a challenge. In the auditions, I looked for students who could really do something with that character and who would be able to really think through who that character is.”
Senior Christian Gray was one of them. Cast in one of the leading roles of Judge Danforth, the Deputy Governor of Massachusetts who oversees the witchcraft trials in Salem, Christian said he strives to achieve the passion and anger his character has, while still showing the judge trying to see both sides and be fair-minded.
Christian just moved to Morris in August, coming from a high school in Louisiana, and before that, California. He has acted in plays and musicals in other schools, but they were comedies, he said. This is his first drama.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” he said of being in the play. “I didn’t know what to expect at first, but everyone in the Drama Club is very welcoming, and I’ve made some new friends. It’s also the most involved and serious acting experience I’ve ever been in.”
Christian said he has always enjoyed entertaining, whether it’s acting on stage, performing music, or reading his poetry. He enjoys language, as well, and using the spoken word to evoke emotion and portray adventure.
Junior Robbi Hicks is a new kid on the block with MCHS fall plays, but she knows her way around the stage from performances in last year’s musical, “Bye, Bye Birdie,” in Morris Theatre Guild’s “Cabaret,” and in Madrigals. In “The Crucible,” she plays Susanna Walcott, a teenage servant who joins other villagers in condemning others as witches.
“When I did Cabaret,” she said, “I learned that teaching people history was something I loved about plays, ... and that’s been the best thing about this play. I feel like we’re entertaining the audience, but we’re also teaching them something. We’re entertainers, but sometimes I feel we’re also educators.”
Robbi said the play is somewhat dark, but that it will be very interesting to the audience.
“I love how heavy it is,” she said. “Bye, Bye Birdie was fun, but this actually has impact on people. They will take something with them. ... I think it makes you have a greater appreciation for how things are today. How state and religion are separate.”
It’s a play where emotions are key, she said.
“You have to tap into your own emotions from your experience in the real world,” she said, “and feel for the character you’re given.”
Robbie said she loves the group she’s working with. She’s not sure yet what she’ll do after high school, but Adam plans on attending the University of Illinois with a mathematics/computer science major and possibly an astronomy minor.
Christian is already auditioning for a theatrer university on the west coast and hopes to make his career in the entertainment industry.