As Perry Central’s drama instructor, Philip Neace enjoys his job. In fact, he enjoys it a lot. That much was evident this week as Neace directed his Commodore Players – the school’s award-winning drama company – during the second week of rehearsals for their fall production of “Aladdin.”
The Players are also celebrating their 10th anniversary this season. As Mr. Neace pointed out, Perry Central had a drama program before his arrival there a decade ago, but it was then that the school’s company was formed. Since then, the Players have continued a focus on the stage with productions nearly every semester when the weather allows for adequate rehearsal time.
“It’s a blessing to have lasted that long,” Neace said, “because many schools can’t speak of a drama program, or any fine arts program, lasting a whole decade without some gaps in time.”
The Players are currently in the midst of getting ready for one of their largest productions in the past decade, a staging of the classic story of “Aladdin,” written by Craig Sodaro, whose adaptation of “The Jungle Book” the students staged a few years ago.
Neace said the company is seeing somewhat of a resurgence, as the school is experiencing its largest class of incoming freshman to participate in drama so far. One-third of the cast of “Aladdin” is made up of freshmen members.
Their inexperience on the stage could have caused issues, Neace noted, but since many are enrolled in the school’s Drama I class, they are picking up the process a bit quicker.
“What they’re learning in class, they’re now applying to rehearsals,” he remarked.
As for the play itself, PCC senior John Bush, who is working as the co-director in addition to this technical duties, said there will be a lot to like with this version of “Aladdin.”
“Pretty much, this is ‘Aladdin,’ just your kids’ show that we all grew up watching, all of us, that we knew and loved,” he said. “It’s basically just the same thing you all have seen on TV, Aladdin trying to get with the princess, and having to overcome his tasks with all of the enemies and having to work with the genies and people who steal the genies.”
Austin Campbell, a junior, will be playing the lead character of Aladdin, and said the production will be “absolutely great” once the curtain goes up. He added that the rehearsals are going smoothly, and this story should provide good entertainment as it offers action and even some humor.
Campbell has been with the Players since he was a seventh grader at Viper Elementary, and noted that he hopes to continue acting on the stage well after his high school career is over. He said he views Perry Central’s drama program as a valuable asset.
“Is it one of the biggest things that ever happened in this school, to me,” he said.
Of course, with any production of “Aladdin,” the genie will play a large role. In this version, there are actually several genies, but junior Makeisha Combs will be playing the role of the genie of the lamp, a character that will play on sarcasm, but should also appeal to the audience.
“I’m sure they’ll be pleased with this genie of the lamp,” she said.
Combs also noted the hard work that she and her fellow students put into these productions, adding that she hopes people will come to see it.
“It’s going to be a great show,” she said. “It’s very important to us, just to see what we put into it. It would be just amazing for people to see.”
“Aladdin” will run for four days on the PCC stage. The play is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Sept. 30, which Neace said should be a perfect weekend since the football team won’t be playing at home that week, and anyone looking for something to do can come out and enjoy the show.
The production also has a more practical application for the students, however, as the proceeds it garners will go directly to funding the company’s competition productions, both at the Kentucky Theatre Association’s (KTA) annual festival, and the East Kentucky Dramatic Arts Festival, an event started at Perry Central just a few years ago which has since been held elsewhere around the region.
“I just want everybody to know that this production goes to fund trips to competition like KTA, and we’re hoping to qualify for the seventh time at KTA this year,” Neace explained. “If this doesn’t get the audience, the kids won’t have that production to do.”