By Brandon Martin
Students at Bassett High School are producing a virtual one-act play to be submitted for a series of accolades.
Under the direction of Theatre Director Justin Kline, the students will perform “Gossip” by Brian Hampton. A recorded version of their 30-minute performance must be submitted by April 10 to be judged on the district level. Winners will have the opportunity to compete on the regional and state levels if they advance.
Kline said one of his primary motivations of joining the theatre was due to the art’s ability to provide commentary on current events and social issues.
“I decided to do a social awareness project because I felt it was important to teach the students about gossip and it’s dangers, but also have the students become the teachers by performing the play,” Kline said. “They are learning how toxic gossip can be, especially among a close group of friends all while telling the story to the audience.”
Kline said the nature of the act is different from their typical comedy or children theatre performances.
“They’re seeing how emotionally draining acting can be and that experience will make them well-rounded performers and public speakers,” he added.
Caitlin Barker, the central character, will be tasked with personifying the concept of gossip.
In Barker’s perception of the character, Gossip is “devious and manipulative” and “puts on a façade of the bubbly new girl. She’s such a contrast in and of herself, so I’m excited to bring her character to life since I’ve never played such a complex character before.”
Barker, who has been involved in the Theatre Department at Bassett during her time at the school, has performed in past productions of “Hairspray” and “Matilda.” Barker also participated in past one-act competitions with roles in “The Entire American Revolution in 40 Minutes or Less” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
“Doing Gossip has been a great experience so far because we’ve never really competed with something that touches on real-world topics, so I’m excited to see how everything plays out at competition,” Barker said.
The act’s conclusion will have a lot of people talking, according to Barker.
“Gossip is truly a story that comes full circle, and really shows how the actual concept of gossip can ruin friendships and get twisted, especially in high school settings,” Barker said. “The end of the play will hopefully resonate with a lot of people and tell a story of how true friendship can bring people back together, even if there’s been an outside force, such as rumors and gossip, trying to tear them apart.”
The cast will also feature Eydie Kenny as Andy; Scott Harmon as Tim; Merrie Graham as Dallas; Tahliyah Hodge as Kaine; Naomi Hairston as Candy; and D’Anna Nopala and Kendall Mayes as the ensemble. Grace Webster will be serving as the run crew and Davis Scott is tasked with lighting and serving as the board operator.
Kline said he really enjoys presiding over the auditions in his role as theatre director.
“As an actor, I know how stressful auditioning can be, so knowing that the students are overcoming that scary time says so much about how strong they are,” Kline said. “Of course, it was a bit different this year. We held auditions over Zoom in December and the students really rose to the challenge.”
Kline said in-person rehearsals are currently allowed as long as COVID-19 guidelines are strictly followed.
“The students are showing immense responsibility by making sure their masks are up and they’re socially distanced,” Kline said. “It’s wonderful to get the students back into the building so they can feel that purpose and sense of belonging again after spending so much time away.”
Overall, Kline said the biggest impediment to rehearsing is “learning how to block,” which is a term for “what the actors do onstage and how they interact with their scene partners.” He added the social distancing requirements made the task more difficult.
“We are having to think outside of the box in how we plan the actors’ movements while still telling the story effectively,” Kline said.
Barker said the adjustment has “been quite the process to figure out how to make everything seem as natural and ‘normal’ as possible.
“I think having these obstacles thrown at us can serve as a learning experience for everyone, and hopefully having to maneuver around social distancing can help us grow as actors and be more adaptable to changes that may have to take place in future productions,” she added.
Unlike normal one-act performances, a live audience will not be in attendance this year. Barker said this has its positives and negatives.
“I think knowing that the judges aren’t there in the moment is a relieving feeling but I’m going to miss the atmosphere of being at competition and having the other schools in the audience, as well as watching their productions when we aren’t getting ready for our own,” Barker said. “Having live reactions from the audience always helps keep the energy up on stage too, so it’s going to be interesting without that element.”
Kline said that normally spectators “pack into a school auditorium with schools around the region and the plays are judged and critiqued that day.”
This year, the cast and production team will record the play without any special editing, and it will be sent to the festival director to be reviewed and scored by a panel of judges.
Kline said the April 10 deadline will allow the production team to “take it slow so we can focus on the small details.
“We are going into our third week of rehearsals and we already have the foundation of the blocking down. My policy as a director is once we block the scene, the next time we come to it, it should be loosely memorized,” Kline said.
He added that he likes “to get the foundation down” to allow “the actors the freedom to explore more in rehearsals” and “see what works and what doesn’t.
Kline said the theater department is working with the local production company, Nickolocity Productions, with Nick McCambridge providing video support.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that other artists in the community are getting back to work and doing what they love to do the most, which is creating,” Kline said.
As she prepares to call curtains on her high school theatre career, Barker is intrigued by not having a live audience and seeing how that “will affect our performance and placement.
“Overall, I’m just excited to have the chance to perform with my favorite people one last time before I graduate, especially given the current circumstances,” Barker said.
Kline said he is also looking into securing the rights for the production “to show it to the public after competition season is over.
“I think it’s super important to show the area what these students have been working on and how they are overcoming a huge challenge during the pandemic,” he added. “It speaks volumes about how passionate, dedicated, and intelligent this generation is. Once we secure the rights, it will most likely be a virtual viewing, but we hope to open the auditorium up to guardians and other members of the family. It just depends on the guidelines at that time, but we are staying positive.”