CCA students perform Shakespeare melodrama

Published 3:39 pm Thursday, April 4, 2013

High school students at Chilton Christian Academy perform William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" for younger students at a dress rehearsal Thursday morning.

High school students at Chilton Christian Academy perform William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” for younger students at a dress rehearsal Thursday morning.

When the high school students at Chilton Christian Academy take the stage for their second and final performance of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” play Friday evening, their audience might need to expect much ado about something.

All 64 high schoolers at CCA of Victory Baptist Church put the entire production together—from props to sets to costumes to programs to lighting to publicity—as part of their graded curriculum.

Under the direction of their English teacher, Charlotte Johnson, the students chose the play, designed the props and arranged rehearsal and performance dates for the play in about two months.

They constructed and painted the sets and props for each scene; designed and sewed costumes and accessories; wired and coordinated the lighting and sound; decorated the church’s fellowship hall for guests; organized ticket sales and publicity efforts; designed and printed programs; and, last but not least, memorized their scripts to perform the play for audiences two nights this week, Thursday and Friday.

Johnson said many of the students devoted time during their spring break week to building and painting sets and props as well as memorizing lines for their characters.

When school resumed, students spent from 5–7 hours each day for two weeks before the performance building the sets and props, making costumes, conducting onstage rehearsals and fine-tuning the production’s lighting, music and sound effects.

Johnson compared the intense, fast-paced days of preparation to “blitzkrieg,” the German word for lightning war from World War II.

“Everybody is in the pool,” Johnson said. “This is the only thing that every child grades 7–12 is actively involved in together. It’s amazing; their ability to figure out what I want done and what needs to be done is uncanny at this point.”

All seven seniors filled lead character roles like Benedick, Beatrice and Don Pedro, but the hierarchy of actors and crew members was not solely based on grade level.

Freshman Evann Campbell, nicknamed “The Hammer” by her classmates, served as Johnson’s assistant and was responsible for making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do—even the upperclassmen.

“We do everything student-led,” Johnson said. “They don’t audition for their parts; they’re assigned their parts. There is not a single adult who has built or sewn anything.”

Senior Chris Lassinger plays the part of Benedick, a young lord of Padua, while senior Mary’l Smitherman plays his sharp-tongued love interest, Beatrice.

“It’s a lot funnier than last year,” Smitherman said of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

CCA presented “MacBeth” in 2012 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2011, the first year it held a major student production.

“It’s fun; it’s just nerve-wracking when you try not to mess up,” Lassinger said. “When it’s over with, that’s when it feels good.”

Johnson said the high school production, now in its third year, is a self-sustaining project in that it pays for itself through ticket and DVD sales.

Proceeds from this year’s $7 tickets and $15 DVDs of the performance will cover production expenses, which were kept to a minimum with parents and churches donating materials and students finding inexpensive costume items at thrift stores.

“They work in crews,” Johnson said. “It’s not only a learning experience about Shakespeare and theater. It’s also a great learning tool.”

The performance is presented as a melodrama, which requires vocal audience participation, and includes touches of modern pop culture influences in songs from the last three decades.

Friday’s performance will be held in the CCA gymnasium at 7 p.m. Those attending should enter through the double doors at the preschool entrance with the covered awning.

Tickets may be purchased at the door or before the performance. To reserve tickets, call Chilton Christian Academy at 688-4454.