The lights come on next week on the 2021 theater season.
Different, in many ways.
Abilene High School kicks off with four performances of “Little Women,” starting Thursday night at the AHS Auditorium. Places are limited to ensure compliance with health safety protocols.
However, at least two shows will also be broadcast live. Cooper High School, which will host “Freaky Friday” from January 28-30, will also offer limited seating and streaming opportunities.
The theater reflects the attendance policy for college basketball games on each campus, said Jay Lester, executive director of fine arts at Abilene ISD.
Hardin-Simmons kicks off the spring term with a production of “BFF: Best Friends Forever”, directed by Madison Murgia, major in theater education.
It’s a show about best friends Lauren and Eliza, teenage girls who face adulthood and navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the majority.
The show will be presented downstairs at the Van Ellis Theater on campus, in what HSU calls its Down Center Stage Lab theater.
A student-led show is part of the theater teaching process, allowing a student actor to demonstrate the skills taught in the classroom. These could be the directing, the conception or the comedy, said Victoria Spangler, drama teacher at HSU.
There are only two shows, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday
Places are limited to 40 people, mask required. There is no admission fee.
It all led to this
Murgia’s spring term started off on a busy note.
She has appeared in several major HSU productions over the years, such as “Love / Sick”, “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing”, the audience drama “The Night of January 16th” and last year’s musical, “The Secret Garden.”
With the intention of graduating in May, she started this week teaching at Cooper High School, which prepares “Freaky Friday” to stage at the end of the month. She has teaching ambitions, possibly including church children’s ministry.
With COVID-19 affecting the entertainment industry, it is going with the flow for now.
âI gave up all expectations,â she said of the start of a specific career.
She has some directing experience, having run a 10-minute show in the fall called “Two Truths and a Lie”. This was supposed to happen last spring, but was struck out when students did not return to campus due to the pandemic.
Also last fall, she took part in a production of “An Experiment with an Air Pump”.
It was a valuable experience for Murgia, who said she had âtons of listeningâ to Spangler as she led students in this drama.
For the effort of its director, Murgia chose “Best Friends”. With HSU preparing a large cast for âInto the Woodsâ for production next month, the cast of actors was shallow. It was his first challenge: to find actors who would not be overloaded.
Fortunately, this show has a cast of three.
It will last maybe 75 minutes, so it’s a jump from a 10 minute piece.
She watched a number of scripts, she said, settling into a room that looked cool. It deals with mental health, even though it’s a teen drama.
“It was different” from other shows for HSU, she said.
Settle on a casting
Once she found the actors she needed, a new challenge presented itself: convincing them to take on the roles.
She watched a student, Jillian Ruiz, for the role of Eliza. Ruiz is a theater minor with a major in psychology who transferred to HSU last year. While she was not on stage, Ruiz impressed Murgia with her showcase.
âIt stuck in my mind,â Murgia said.
The director was dismissed.
âI couldn’t control that,â said Murgia, who left the door open.
Ruiz came back to her with questions and concerns. Murgia both challenged her to come out, but also reassured Ruiz that she would do her part to make the experience a success.
âShe said to me, ‘I think I’m going to do it,’â Murgia said.
Since then, she said, Ruiz has received encouragement from others as well.
The other actors are Sydney Keating, who is Lauren, and Tyrell White-O’Neal who was the judge on “The Night of January 16th”.
He is Seth, the lover of the series.
Murgia had no intention of creating a diverse cast, but that’s how it turned out. White-O’Neal is black.
âIt wasn’t something I was looking for,â she said, âbut everyone was equippedâ for the role.
The show is contemporary, so it works, Murgia said.
Become a director
Another challenge was how to present the piece.
Murgia liked the quirkiness, but said she found âBest Friendsâ relied too much on teenage stereotypes, such as naivety and drama. She wanted to present the story a little differently.
âI wanted to start a fire under these stereotypes,â she said.
In addition to having taken the realization course 1, she took the realization course 2. one of the two students. They read a book by American theater and opera director Anne Bogart. Murgia went back to her notes from this class.
She found Bogart’s words to apply directly, if you will, to what she was doing.
Murgia welcomed the challenges that come with being in charge.
âI quickly discovered the passion that comes with directing,â she said. She loved forming her company and making those calls for the show, “guiding them in the directions I wanted to go,” she said.
Still, she didn’t want to be bossy. Perhaps looking at her own long resume, she realized that the seniors in her show are smart and passionate about acting, so let them excel.
There was another challenge.
The students started working on “BFF: Best Friends Forever” on January 4th.
The first show is January 23. It’s less than three weeks.
Murgia smiles under her face mask.
âIt was intimidating at first, but I’m a Type A personality,â she said.
His next thought was, “Oh, it’s okay.”
Greg Jaklewicz is editor-in-chief of the Abilene Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.