Going well beyond: Student-led play brings some to stage for first-time as kids ‘take informed action’ and impress teacher

Published 11:43 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Ian Birney, left, questions “Death,” played by Nick Walker, right, as Mackenzie Alexander and Clete Hellyer look on after Hellyer has been “afflicted” by Death.

In just less than a week, a group of students not typically featured in Boyle County High School drama productions will find themselves on stage, some for the very first time, as they perform “Cheating Death” by Kamron Klitgaard.

“I’d say we’re excited,” said Bailey Alexander, one of the directors of the production.

She and co-director Meredith Lyverse are first-time directors in this play where actors’ skills run the gamut, so she said they wanted to keep things simple.

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“Cheating Death,” is a play full of dark humor about the Angel of Death, played by Nick Walker, visiting a mental hospital to collect someone on his list. Upon arriving, the Angel accidentally reveals himself to the wrong person and, while trying to prove his identity, also has to determine who his intended target is.

“We picked it because, to be honest, it’s a short play, it’s low maintenance,” said Alexander.

The play will be performed at West T. Hill Community Theatre. 

Alexander and Lyverse are directing the play as part of their Taking Informed Action project for Ryan New’s AP Government and Politics class at Boyle County High School.

Each year, New said, he tasks students with completing a capstone project that explains their own understanding of what it means to be a citizen.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Cast members introduce themselves to “Death,” played by Nick Walker, at center, who has come to take one of them away, but which one he’s unsure of.

“Part of this year-long venture is to ‘take informed action.’ Students are encouraged to explore and use their creativity and to understand issues or concerns,” New said. “Bailey and Meredith wanted to put on a student-led play because they feel the arts are essential to empowering our democracy.”

Alexander said when they told New what they wanted to do, he didn’t tell them “no,” but he was “just a little bit surprised.” 

“He said, ‘This is why I love this assignment I give you guys so much.’ He doesn’t give us rules, he just says, ‘taking informed action.’ I was like, ‘What is taking informed action?’ I tried to think of something I was passionate about,” she said.

Alexander has participated in plays in the community and also attended the Governor’s School for the Arts over the summer. Armed with her background in theater, Alexander said she settled on the idea of doing a play pretty easily, thinking specifically of her friend, Jessica Majors, who wanted to participate in recent drama productions but couldn’t because of scheduling.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Bailey Alexander, left, and Meredith Lyverse, right, follow the script as the students run through the play. The two are directing the play, “Cheating Death,” as part of a project in Ryan New’s class at the Boyle County High School.

Alexander explained that it’s sometimes hard for students to participate in the drama department’s performances because only those taking drama classes can be involved.

She took the idea to Lyverse, who was on board. She, too, has been in drama productions, all mostly at the school.

But, Alexander said, Lyverse “has a heart for it.”

“I do have a heart for the theater,” Lyverse said.

They’ve also recruited the help of Majors and of Lucas Ross, who is going to run the light board at WTH and help set the stage for the play.

“He’s a lifesaver,” Alexander said.

Auditions were open to any student at BCHS who was interested — it resulted in a lot of new faces to theater.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Clete Hellyer, right, introduces himself to “Death,” played by Nick Walker, center, while Ian Birney, left, sits nearby.

That was tricky and sometimes awkward, Lyverse and Alexander said, because they go to school with everyone who tried out.

“You have to pass them in the hallway,” Lyverse said, referring to those who didn’t get cast. 

Alexander said, “Normally, you don’t have to see people who come out for auditions again, here we have to see them every day.”

Other than Walker, a senior and new actor; the cast includes Caleb Edmiston and T.J. Bryant, freshmen who are taking first-year theater classes; Riley Burke, a senior and seasoned actor; Ian Birney, a junior and seasoned actor; Mackenzie Alexander, a freshman with limited theater experience; and Clete Hellyer, a senior in his first-ever production.

“He’s probably one of the most excited,” said Lyverse, referring to Hellyer. “I’m really proud of him.”

Alexander said the students wrote bios for the programs and Edmiston noted in his a desire to become an actor.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Nick Walker as Death, right, stops T.J. Bryant and Riley Burke during a rehearsal of Cheating Death.

“That’s a little ‘Mom’ moment, you kind of feel proud,” she said, smiling.

The students have been practicing twice a week, for about an hour after school since January in New’s classroom.

“It’s all student-led,” Lyverse said. “It’s kind of make-shift. It’ll be good, but it is all on the two of us. That’s the point of the project.”

They said being first-time directors was more “daunting” than they expected.

“We were getting programs together, we were getting posters. We thought auditions would be fun, blocking was fun … There’s just a lot of that stuff that we didn’t think about,” Alexander said, explaining they had to reserve and pay for a theater to hold the performance and cover the cost of scripts and royalty fees.

There will be a cost to see “Cheating Death” — $3 for students and $5 for adults. Any extra money will be donated to the Community Arts Center, Lyverse said.

“I’m excited for all of (the students) who get to participate in this, especially those who haven’t been in plays before,” Alexander said. “I’m excited for that. I’m excited for the reasons that we’re doing this … I’m a little bit nervous, but they’ll pull it off.”

New said he was proud of the students for their work — work that has been entirely their own.

“It’s proof that when you give space to students, they can go well beyond,” New said. “We are all bettered by this and I’m thankful for what Bailey and Meredith have taught me through their informed action.”


Cheating Death will be 7 p.m. Thursday (March 22) at West T. Hill Community Theatre. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door. Cost is $3 for students and $5 for adults. Anyone planning to attend is encouraged to arrive early, as there are a limited number of seats.