The official beginning of autumn is just around the corner, and for one group of students at Perry Central High School, fall is a busy season.
Perry Central’s Commodore Players are roughly two weeks away from the opening night of their production of “Urban Legends,” a collection of weird and scary stories brought to the stage by a cast of 40 student actors. Drama teacher Philip Neace is again serving as director, and with an effort ongoing to drum up interest in drama for students in lower grades, he said the company does have a specific audience in mind.
“This is something we wanted to do to try to get some middle school kids of our county a little bit more involved and interested in the theatre program,” Neace said. “This is something that is definitely like the legends that they tell to their friends at the lunch table, or on the school bus or sleepovers.”
“Urban Legends” will span a collection of five different stories, some of which Neace described as dark but with a twist at the end for which stories like these have become famous. He said it has been interesting to see how the actors interpret these different narratives.
“They know how it ends, but they have to make it fresh each and every time to an audience, and make it seem like the twist isn’t coming,” he said.
The subject matter of “Urban Legends” is a bit of a departure for the Commodore Players, as it brings with it a darker element not present in past productions like “Aladdin” and “The Seussification of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” both of which were produced with a much younger audience in mind.
For the actors, this presents a much more character-oriented story with longer runs of dialogue, which can present a challenge in itself.
“There are a lot of speeches in this play than there were in a lot of the other ones we’ve done,” noted Makayla Combs. “It’s a lot harder on us to learn our lines.”
And since the subject matter is geared differently, there is a focus on conveying the right emotions to a more astute audience. In other words, they won’t be playing it just for laughs this time around.
“You’re trying to get an emotion across to them like, hey, this is what you should be feeling,” added senior Makeisha Combs.
Another change this time around is that the audience will be asked for some input. Neace said he plans to cull some of the stories from the Players’ fall production to take to the annual state drama festival for direct competition with other high schools. Proceeds from the fall production will go to fund the students’ trip to state, which if they qualify will make the ninth year in a row.
“This play is actually five mini-plays, each with a separate cast,” Neace explained. “The most successful plays from this collection are actually going to be the play that we take to competition. We will ask for audience input for that.”
“Urban Legends” will open on the Perry Central stage on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. There will also be shows Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4 and 5 at 7 p.m., and the run will end with a matinee show at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6. Tickets will be $6 for adults and $5 for students.