Director says idea to produce ‘Spoon River’ in Bellevue was dead on
Published 8:44 am Tuesday, October 24, 2017
A grave drama
Boyle County High School is presenting a pretty unusual performance this month. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Drama Production class will put on “Spoon River Project,” an adaptation of the 1916 book of poems by Lee Masters.
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The collection of poems, “A Spoon River Anthology,” inspired this series of monologues by characters in a small, rural town in the midwest whose lives are connected in many ways.
“The cast is that all these characters are speaking from the grave to explain their lives and deaths to the audience,” director and drama teacher Frieda Gebert says.
Since Boyle high school doesn’t have a theater yet, Gebert decided to take the suggestion of the playwright, Tom Andolara, and try to present the play in a cemetery.
“The City of Danville graciously agreed to let us perform in Bellevue Cemetery, so we will present the play right at dusk in the middle of the cemetery. The audience will be encouraged to bring folding chairs, and blankets if its cold.”
Gebert read the original book in high school. Then, this summer, she ran across a review of the play inspired by it.
“It contains about a quarter of the poems in the original collection — and a light bulb went off. The author suggests that the play be done in a cemetery. And since we don’t have a theater at BCHS, it seemed like a match made in heaven. But what really drew me to the play is the characters; all of them lived and died in a small, rural town, much like Danville. Their monologues capture the feelings that all of us have experienced from time to time.”
One of the things she likes about the piece is that Andolora chose to incorporate several musical pieces from turn-of-the-century. “We will have two violins and a piano accompaniment for the songs. There are songs by Stephen Foster, even a couple of dances.”
Gebert says she recently received some good advice from her husband. “If you see the process as a set of obstacles and hurdles, the whole experience can be frustrating,” is what he told her, about something not related to drama. However, she applied it to producing this play.
“Instead, why don’t you look at it as a puzzle — a problem-solving exercise? Well, that approach worked really well for this play, too.”
She says from requesting permission from the City of Danville’s Cemetery Board, to figuring out seating and lighting, it has been a huge problem-solving exercise. “I took the cast on a tour of the cemetery and together we chose the exact spot to perform. It was really fun to watch them work out the details.”
Gebert says Andolora’s suggestion to perform the play in a cemetery was dead-on — “Pardon the pun. But it lends a sense of immediacy, and even reality, to what could be a macabre event: dozens of characters coming back from the dead to explain their lives and choices. I love the way their lives interweave, and the details of how they came to rest in this cemetery. Some stories are shocking, others are funny, and still others are moving. Every small town contains a multitude of secrets and ‘Spoon River’ was no exception.”
The cast consists of 21, most of whom portray multiple characters. It was fun, she says, working with the actors to change their voice and posture and attitude for the different people they represent. Many of the actors have been seen around the area in plays at West T. Hill and the Ragged Edge, but there are lots of new faces as well.
“We want this to be an experience, not just a play. We are asking people to provide their own folding chairs and to bring blankets if it’s chilly. We have scheduled the play to start at dusk, around 6:30. If it’s rainy on one of those dates, we always have the other, but hopefully the weather will allow us to perform on both dates.”
IF YOU GO
“Spoon River Project” will go up 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in Bellevue Cemetery, produced by Boyle County High School’s Drama Production class. Tickets are $5 at the gate; audience members are invited to bring folding chairs and blankets.