All-student productions put teens in the driver’s seat

The Community Theatre League has a long-standing commitment to students in the area, which is never more evident than in their annual All-Student Production. Past shows have included full-scale musicals and plays, world-premiere works, and – as in this year’s performances – 2 one-act plays. The two shows will be presented in the same evening and will run at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 10, 11 and 12.

Williamsport Area High School senior, Megan Sluhocki, directs the high school comedy, “Techies” and St. John Neumann Regional Academy sophomore, Allison Lax, directs the Japanese folk tale, “A Thousand Cranes.” Each show features students from several area high schools.

CTL searched in early September for two student directors and the young ladies were chosen after submitting a letter of interest and ideas of what they’d like to direct.

“We like the directors to be really invested in their shows, so I ask the candidates to research appropriate titles and submit their preliminary ideas on the shows,” said Jacquie Engel, CTL’s Youth Programs Coordinator. “Both Ally and Megan were very excited about their choices and have been very prepared from the start.”

“The shows could not be more different,” added Engel. “Techies” is a modern-day comedy, set in a high school audio-visual booth. It’s a very familiar setting for many of the kids involved and centers around Tony, a high school senior who is trying to look ahead to college. He is bogged down with the inevitable pressures of ex- and current girlfriends, parents, friends and high school principals.

Nico Kaiser plays Tony, with Hannah Swanson and Barbara Whiteman as his girlfriends. Tony’s friends are played by Brian LeBlanc, Brian McKeon and Alec Lakatos. The cast is rounded out by Ari Roush, Max Moore and Jordan Scott. The show’s stage manager is Ryland Smith.

When asked about the challenges that come with directing friends and kids her own age, director Megan Sluhocki takes it in stride.

“Discipline among the cast is always a challenge, but being friends with most of my cast allows me to know how they react and act around people, and I try to head off any potential problems,” she said.

Sluhocki was immediately drawn to the play.

“Being a high school senior and a devout stage manager to the theater, I think Tony and I are very much alike,” she said. “Right now I, like Tony, am waiting to hear from colleges, so I can completely identify with him. As I read the script and started directing, I noticed that each character is somehow present in my life and most likely the lives of others. I think that most “theater people” and others can relate to the show and will find the ending inspirational.”

“Techies” is only one-half of the bill for the evening. “A Thousand Cranes” is an artistic, Japanese folk tale and is directed by Ally Lax.

“It was very exciting to have a student choose a show that is set in a different time and place, yet not a fairy tale,” said Engel. “Ally has stepped up to the challenge of recreating post-WWII Japan.”

“The biggest challenge has been getting right the feeling of being in a different time and place,” said Lax. “I want people to know why Sadako is so beautifully unique and how the bombing at Hiroshima affected her so much, even though she herself did nothing wrong.”

“A Thousand Cranes” is the real-life story of Sadako Sasaki who lived near Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing and eventually developed leukemia from the radiation. A Japanese legend said that one who creates a thousand origami cranes would then be granted a wish. Her wish was to live but she managed to fold only 644 cranes before succumbing to the disease. Her friends and family folded the remaining cranes and buried them with Sadako. A statue of Sadako holding a giant golden origami crane is on display today in Hiroshima Peace Park.

Sadako is played by Katie Keith and she spends most of her time with her friend Kenji, played by Brian McKeon. Arielle Roush and Brian LeBlanc play her parents and Kelsey Dowling plays the ghost of her grandmother. Five others play various parts in the play and set the mood of the folk tale: Alec Lakatos, Sydney Powell, Kaitlyn Mello, Kelsey Rogers and Morgan Yearick. The show’s stage manager is Emily Kilheeney.

And yes, the cast is folding 1000 origami cranes!

“Mrs. Carolyn McKeon, who spent some time in Japan, came in to teach us how to fold them,” said Lax.

Engel marvelled at the dedication of these young people.

“The casts rehearse after school, Monday through Thursday. Several kids are in both shows, so they end up being here four times a week,” she said. CTL believes in empowering students and has high expectations for those involved. The student productions are entirely acted, directed and staffed by local high school students. CTL has partnered with The Woodcock Foundation for the Appreciation of the Arts and the Williams-port Sun-Gazette, who sponsor the production, to offer these opportunities.

Tickets for the student one-acts are $8 each and may be bought at ctl or by calling 327-1777, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.