Out of the frying pan and into the fire – such is the fall season for Perry Central High School’s Commodore Players. This week, as they immediately come off of last week’s four-day run of “Aladdin” on the PCC stage, the school’s drama company began preparing for their annual competition piece for the Kentucky Theatre Association’s dramatic arts festival.
Philip Neace, PCC’s drama instructor, describes the KTA festival as the Sweet 16 of high school theatre in Kentucky, and his Commodore Players will next month make the company’s eighth appearance at state-level competition.
The proceeds from this past weekend’s run of “Aladdin” will help fund the Player’s competition production of “The Shakespeare Project,” a play written by James Zager that imagines contemporary life if English speakers conversed in every day dialogue using the same language filled with rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter Shakespeare used in his famous plays. And the test will be in the inflection and delivery, Neace explained, and working to ensure that the dialogue doesn’t sound too much like a Shakespeare play would have.
“It wouldn’t sound like Shakespeare, it would sound like a normal conversation,” Neace said. “So that is our challenge, not only to learn this very old dialogue word for word, but we have to make it sound like it fits today instead of back then.”
The Players have never performed Shakespeare at competition before, so that in itself adds to the challenge of preparing for a new production, especially one in which they will have a month to perfect. The students completed auditions on Monday of this week, and the 12 cast members selected began reading through the script on Tuesday.
“The schedule is very, very compact, because to make it work out, the KTA is the first weekend of November,” Neace explained.
Perry Central’s KTA cast will include two actors with previous experience at the festival. Junior Haley Madden said such a short time between productions is actually better than taking a break between shows, but she knows KTA will present unique challenges that their normal fall and spring productions may not.
“It’s just the fact that you know you’re going to be up there with people that have talent up to your standards,” Madden said, adding that even the schools who may be newer to competition have solid actors who will have worked just as hard to prepare for the festival.
And, of course, there is also the fact that their performances will be completed before a panel of judges critiquing everything from delivery to costuming.
“There is added pressure with people judging, considering that it has to be spot-on, not a single word misread or mispronounced,” added Tommy Jo Sexton, also a junior who will be making his return to the KTA stage next month.
While the company has yet to nab a team award, for the past three years individual members of the Commodore Players have been recognized for their work, and Neace said any sort of recognition is the ultimate goal, even if it happens to be another mountain school from Eastern Kentucky.
“Our only hope is that we can always go to KTA and bring home something,” Neace said. “We don’t care what it is. Our philosophy with going to KTA is if one wins, we all win. If it’s another school in the mountains that we happen to be fond of and they win, we’re celebrating.”
In the meantime, the Players will continue their preparations this week, and they expect to be ready for competition in a little under a month’s time.