WATERLOO — DeKalb High School launches its busiest-ever theater season this weekend with three performances of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
The classic comedy is the first of five shows DeKalb students will produce this school year, up from the traditional seasons of two or three shows.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” will be presented Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the school auditorium. Tickets are on sale at the school office.
For this show, the stage will face away from the auditorium seating, and audience members will be seated at the rear of the stage. The setting is a feature of DeKalb’s On Stage for the Classics series, said theater instructor Jed Freels.
“We started that last year, where we bring the audience on stage with us,” Freels said. “Which we think is exciting, because it’s up-close and personal for our audience. Our front row will be 4 feet way.”
The story of the elderly Brewster sisters, unlikely mass killers, has reached its 80th anniversary.
“It’s one of the most produced plays in modern playwright history,” Freels said.
At DeKalb, the show is a student-driven production, with students in charge of props, lighting and directing. That’s one of Freels’ goals for the school’s expanded theater program.
“There’s five different classes that take charge of different things. It’s so exciting to watch them continue to develop and continue to bring the productions to life,” Freels said. “It’s exciting for me to sit back and watch them develop as actors and … as technicians and producers.”
Freels encouraged sophomore Eva Hallman, who had a leading role last year, to try something different for this show.
“I said, ‘Eva, I think for you to grow in theater arts, you need to step off the stage and become a student director and see this side of it,’” Freels said. “She was a little upset with me for probably the first 48 hours, maybe longer. However, I think she would agree that learning all aspects of the show has enriched her as an actor.”
“I get to see firsthand every single rehearsal. I get to watch the character growth that everyone develops during this production,” Hallman said.
“It’s really made me become aware of what I need to grow and work on. So, then when I audition the next time, I know what he’s looking for, and I know better techniques to help me perform,” she added.
Lyndsi Read, a junior, also is serving as a student director.
“I decided that I wanted to take a step back from being on stage,” said Read, who aims to become show choir and theater teacher and director. She added that thanks to her directing perspective, “I definitely will not complain about a lot of things I complained about last year.”
Zaira Finderson, a junior, took on the job of stage manager.
“I’ve really seen the technical side of everything, and that everything needs to be in its place, and that everyone needs their props. Otherwise, things just look hectic, they don’t look right, and there’s blundering that happens,” Finderson said. She added that her role “gives me a great new aspect for when I audition later.”
In key roles on the stage, Chandler Hutton plays leading man Mortimer Brewster. Blair McKown and Lauren Woodcox portray the Brewster sisters.
“Our old ladies really make you think they’re old ladies,” Freels said.
Dorian Underwood plays Mortimer Brewster’s fiancee, Elaine. Elijah Edwards is cast as the Brewster sisters’ brother, who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt
“There’s been lot of missing men in Brooklyn, and nobody knows where they’re going” in the story, Freels said.
More than 40 students are involved, out of approximately 80 in the theater department. Others will get their chances in the season’s remaining shows.
The next production will be a spotlight night with a variety of acts. February will bring “The History of Dating,” and the spring musical will be “The Wizard of Oz.”
For the season finale, theater students are co-writing a musical based on “The Bones of Kekionga,” a historical fiction novel set in Fort Wayne and written by former DeKalb Central teacher Jim Pickett.
“We have five different opportunities to get on stage,” Freels said about the season. “If we want to build the department, we have to build opportunities.”