I am not afraid… I was born to do this. — St. Joan of Arc
Appleton North Theatre Director Ron Parker has directed, encouraged, inspired and transformed 22 straight high school casts enroute to the Wisconsin High School Theatre State finals and he has received a Critic’s Choice in all of them so far, a state record.
This is the first year he directed a cast that, due to COVID-19 concerns, could not actually take a stage together, a crew that could not build a traditional set, a play that could not be performed in an actual theatre.
Even with all those restrictions, though, his genuine genius shown through, as evidenced by the school’s virtual presentation last night.
As always, he gave credit to his students, who are, to an actor, remarkable. He also thanked his technical director Pete Abraham, a hands-on builder who had to learn a whole new craft to build North’s virtual set, and his costumer, Tracey Thoen Hornung, who drove costumes to each actor’s house, stood at the end of their driveways, assessed the costume’s fit and design, drove the costumes home, tweaked them and then started the process all over again.
And then he stepped aside and let his gifted students do their work. It was nothing short of astonishing to see these young actors and stage crew seamlessly present this challenging material knowing, but forgetting, thanks to the magic of theatre, that they were actually speaking all by themselves to a computer screen in isolated rooms.
The prop handoffs, which involved identical items at each recording location, were so impressive you forgot you were watching a Zoom presentation.
And those students, my goodness! They rose to the occasion of this challenging year. When I think about Appleton North’s 2020 spring musical, Matilda, and how that cast work so hard to put that show together but had to shut the whole thing down just as they were launching their run, due to the Safer at Home orders, I feel terrible for them.
But, to see many of these same students gracefully and determinedly accept that challenge, and put together a show like St. Joan for the State One-Act Competition, is just thrilling.
Bravo, once again, to the Appleton North Theatre program and break a leg (at least that’s not an actual threat in this new, virtual theatre world) in the next round.
For a closer look at how this production rolled out, you can visit the Appleton North Theatre’s Facebook page.