Comic relief: CHS theater students set for self-directed debut

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Colchester High School theater students rehearse a scene from “Check, Please” on Friday, Nov. 10 in the school’s auditorium. The show, which includes another comedic one-act and medley of songs from “Footloose”, is student directed. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

At first glance, the theater rehearsal at Colchester High School last Friday afternoon appeared routine.

Student actors eagerly tried on costume pieces, scrambled to incorporate new props into their scenes and offered sheepish looks into the audience when they forgot a cue line or two — all commonplace occurrences with just a week until showtime.

Extraordinary was the panel of directors perched attentively in the front row of the auditorium seats. Seniors Anna Eaton, Bella Lopez and Natalee Garen offered careful critiques, coordination and gentle encouragement to their peers with confidence far surpassing their ages.

“Try using a nasally voice,” Lopez suggested to one of her charges on stage with a grin, breaking into hysterical laughter when he quickly obliged.

The three students were thrust from stage to director chair just last month after the drama program’s hired leader suddenly resigned as rehearsals for the musical “Footloose” were well underway, citing conflicts over the state of the technical equipment.

When the show’s lead actor and choreographer followed suit, CHS administrators said they had no choice but to cancel the production, as reported in the Sun’s October 26 edition.

After working through a healthy dose of shock and disappointment, Eaton, Lopez and Garen asked if they could try their hand at directing a pared back production, ensuring their peers could still make an appearance on stage this season. The school brought in a few adult mentors to help them along but largely allowed the teens to take control.

Since then, the trio has assembled a slate of two short comedies and a compilation of songs from their original show, dubbing the entire endeavor “Comedy Night.” The group will take the stage during two of the timeslots previously set aside for the musical.

“I never truly knew the definition of the term ‘herding cats’ until this experience,” Garen said with a smirk. “It’s like running a business.”

Her show, “Small Actors,” chronicles the fallout a teenage girl faces after she tells her parents she landed the role of Juliet in Shakespeare’s classic play — despite only being cast as “Servant No. 2.”

Lopez and Eaton teamed up to direct the second show, “Check, Please!” Set in a restaurant, the script describes cringe-worthy blind dates. The singles include a woman with multiple personalities, a kleptomaniac and an aspiring movie star using the dinner as a chance to try out a role for which he’s vying.

That both plays fall heavily on slapstick comedy is no coincidence, the girls said in an interview last month, explaining the plays offer some much needed levity after a stressful season of theater. All three also appear on stage in some capacity. On Friday, they jumped up on stage and back down again with seamless coordination.

Student directors Anna Eaton (left) and Bella Lopez take notes during the run through. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

The girls haven’t thrown out the work they did in the first half of the semester, either. Various groups take the stage to perform well-loved classics from “Footloose,” like “Mama Says,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boys,” and “Holding Out For a Hero,” in concert style renditions.

In unison exclaim, all three girls said scheduling was the most challenging part of the experience. They’ve learned not to be afraid to delegate, too.

“It’s a physical demonstration of what community and family and support is all about,” Eaton said of their final product.

“This is about us making the best of a horrible situation,” Lopez added. “We’re supporting our own growth.”

Beaming from ear to ear after rehearsal, Lopez, Eaton and Garen said their work wasn’t worry-free, but it assured them they could take on major projects outside of theater.

“Come not just to support the community, but to support us fostering a sense of not just being actors but being leaders,” Garen said. “This really does feel like the most adult thing I’ve done in high school.”

“Comedy Night” takes the stage on November 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. in the Colchester High School auditorium. The suggested donation for tickets is $5.