Published Nov. 10, 2022
BY BRIANNA SCIUTO
Every year, Carmel High School students look forward to the casual winter production put on by theater-involved high schoolers, but starting this year, the CHS drama teacher will be limiting casting to students of the high school’s Drama I and II courses, a decision that has produced some controversy within the student theater community.
Known endearingly as the “black box production” because of its venue in the performing arts center’s soundproof rehearsal room, the winter show is historically a festive and seasonal play. This year, the 11 students enrolled in drama will portray the characters of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a 1940s comedy crime play that begins with a wealthy marriage and spirals into homicidal and comical themes.
“We have many incredible performers and techies who are willing to push themselves, but everyone needs a break,” drama teacher Gracie Balistreri explains. “The school is dedicated to helping students balance extracurricular activities and academics with sleep and wellness, so this is conducive to that.”
Yet some students have expressed disappointment that they will not be able to participate in this unique play.
“I’ve never done a show of that genre, so it would have been a cool opportunity to try something new,” explains theater-experienced sophomore Zachary Rasmussen, who is not enrolled in a drama course.
Balistreri made this change partially in consideration of the mental health of the performers. As rehearsals will take place during the school day, she explains, students can use the two to three hours they would normally reserve for rehearsal to focus on themselves, their schoolwork and other extracurriculars.
“I understand the thinking behind it, but I don’t fully support it,” says CHS sophomore Lillian Mendez, whose busy schedule rendered her unable to enroll in the drama course this year, making the winter show the first high school production she has missed. “Theater is one of my favorite things to take part in.”
These perspectives are shared among drama students and students outside of the course alike.
“At first I was upset about the decision because so many people who can’t take drama wouldn’t be able to participate,” says senior Drama II student Cole Dahlia Prekoski. “These shows are some of the only times I get with them.”
Still, Prekoski notices that drama students are finding the small cast size easier to manage, and the advantages of their newly freed afternoons are becoming apparent now that rehearsals have begun.
Rasmussen, who uses the pronoun they, has a positive outlook on the change. They are enjoying their newfound freedom, and they are still able to spend time with their friends from theater.
“Everyone in the community is really close even though not everyone is in the show,” Rasmussen adds.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” was chosen by drama students, who will not only star in the show, but manage it behind the scenes. Rather than an extracurricular activity, the play will serve as a cumulative assignment for the drama students that will allow them to apply the year’s classroom material to a full-scale production. In addition to the acting and stage crew responsibilities, upperclassmen will be tasked with guiding the underclassmen through the process of preparation, with juniors and seniors leading freshmen in technical and dramatic endeavors.
“A wonderful relationship blooms when experienced upperclassmen can mentor students who may be new to the arts at CHS,” Balistreri explains.
Drama students are reacting positively to the added responsibility. Junior Richard Spencer was assigned to mentor a freshman in memorizing lines and preparing the set, and he is enthusiastic about the added challenge the mentorship presents.
“The show is perfect for our cast size and individual talents,” Prekoski adds. “I’m super excited for how it’s going to turn out.”
“Arsenic and Old Lace” can be viewed in Carmel High School’s blackbox theater on Dec. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m.