By Bob Skolnik
For the first time in four years a dramatic play will be performed this weekend at Riverside-Brookfield High School.
After being cut for budget reasons after the failure of a tax referendum in 2011 the fall play is back after a group of students and parents lobbied hard over the summer for the school to bring theater funding back to the school.
This weekend approximately 30 students will perform the classic Thornton Wilder play Our Town. The cast members, like athletes and others involved in many extracurricular activities, had to pay a $75 participation fee to be in the play.
Director Diane Marelli said she picked Our Town because it's "the definitive high school play," one focused on character and writing.
"There's no dazzle. There's nothing that gets in the way of stagecraft," said Marelli. "There's not a lot of sets. There are no chase scenes or slamming doors, or any of the tricks of theater. It's just basic, good acting and learning how to address an audience."
Our Town will be performed Thursday at 7 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 in the main auditorium at RBHS, 160 Ridgewood Road in Riverside. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and can be purchased in advance at the school's business office or at the door.
The play, which premiered in 1938, tells the story of everyday life in fictional small town of Grover's Corner, New Hampshire, in the early years of the 20th century. It focuses on the timeless themes of love, marriage and death.
It took a while, but cast members have gradually warmed to the play.
"I think several students have discovered that it's very layered and textured and very interesting," said Marelli, a longtime music teacher who is directing her first dramatic play.
After the fall play's four-year hiatus, Marelli said it was challenging to stage the play and even identify the right actors.
"I knew how important it was for a school to have this dramatic outlet for kids, but being in it, I realize how much has been lost and how much needs to be rebuilt," Marelli said. "I have a couple of younger students who have speaking roles that have never acted."
Senior Jessica Van Winkle plays Emily and junior Tom Loftus plays George. Meanwhile, senior Annabelle Daily splits the stage manager role with fellow senior Moira Dunn.
Annabelle and her mother, Sheila Daily, worked hard over the summer building a movement to bring back the fall play. Both of them, along with numerous others, addressed the school board, imploring the board to restore funding for the production.
Now that she is getting ready to take the stage for her only performance in a dramatic production in high school, Annabelle is relishing the experience, even if she knows it is both a first and a last performance for her.
"I am so grateful and I am so excited," she said. "I remember seeing the plays when I was younger … and I always thought I was going to get that chance when I was in high school. But when they took it away with the referendum I kind of lost that hope, so I'm very glad that they brought it back for us."
And it's even more special, Annabelle said, because she worked to make it happen.
"We got a play and we cannot wait to show it off to everybody this weekend," Annabelle said. "I'm very proud of it and I'm very proud of our cast."
As a senior, Annabelle said she wishes she that she had more opportunities to perform in high school, but she is proud to know that other students will have opportunities because of the effort that she and others made.
"It is bittersweet," she said. "I'm sad that this is the only opportunity I had to be in a play, but I'm very glad that … there are going to be kids again that do get a play every year."