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The Play’s the Thing; So’s the Writing

Acting Class Interprets Other Students’ Works


A lengthy short story from the mind of Eliot King comes to life onstage in a powerful pantomime by Marissa Schutter and Donovan Fletcher. A science-fiction tale written by Hailee Cederquist becomes a humorous domestic skit about channel-surfing by Phoebe Dawson and Yesenia Cotto. And Yesenia gives a moving reading of Heaven Rademaker’s monologue about medication abuse.

The combination of creative writing and stagecraft adds up to “Theatre by the Numbers,” to be presented by the Northview High School theater program on Wednesday, Nov. 29. The production’s theatrical interpretations of various forms of writing represents a synthesis of artistic creativity among NVHS students.

State of the Arts: Learning’s Overlooked Ally is a continuing series of School News Network. Related: Student Writings for Theatre by the Numbers: A Sampling

What: “Theatre by the Numbers”

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29

Where: Max Colley Jr. Performing Arts Center at Northview High School

Admission: Free

The result was an enriching experience for Nancy Hoffman’s Advanced Theatre Arts Class, a new elective this year, as well as for the student writers from other classes. Nearly a dozen of them submitted their writings, as did language arts teacher Megan Martin.

“I think it brings out our student body’s voice,” said senior Phoebe Dawson. “It’s really interesting knowing what our fellow students are capable of writing and creating. Being able to put it onstage and recreating it for them, it’s a nice feeling.”

It’s also a nice change from performing works by professional playwrights and authors, added senior Yesenia Cotto.

“It’s a very personal touch,” Yesenia said. “You’re doing a scene for somebody that you personally know, getting inside their head. It’s a little bit more special.”

The cast is ready for the unpredictable: from left, Savannah Scheid, Yesenia Cotto, Lynsey Hiemstra, Marissa Schutter, Sean Huizing, Rose Sanreta, Donovan Fletcher and Phoebe Dawson; not pictured is Jenna Valle

Tricky Adaptations

Hoffman got the idea from seeing a production last year at East Grand Rapids High School, where the method has been used for several years.

“I thought it was a cool thing to have students in the school sharing their thoughts, and I loved the adaptation that the actors put into it,” Hoffman said.

Savannah Scheid presents an emotionally intense poem, “Erase”

The production is “harder than you realize,” she added, noting the students perform the written works in response to numbers that audience members call out. Students have to memorize the numbers and be ready to perform any of them at all times.

Another challenge was adapting the writings for stage performance. Senior Eliot King’s short story covering the many stages of a couple’s relationship was condensed into a wordless pantomime with a soft piano soundtrack. Marissa Schutter, who performs in the piece that goes from early romance to bereaved parents, said the adaptations struck a delicate balance.

“You want to stay true to what they have (written,) but there’s factors they don’t always consider because they don’t have the same experience you do when it comes to theater,” said Marissa, a senior. “So you have to make the decision of, it may hurt their feelings, but you have to do this in order to make the show good all around.”

Heaven Rademaker, author of “Side Effects,” said its theme of drug abuse affecting both parent and child will resonate more widely from the stage.

“That was a really personal piece for me, so I wasn’t even thinking about (submitting it),” said Heaven, a sophomore. “But then I thought maybe it would help other people feel not so alone. If they’re going through it, maybe they could relate to it.”

Hoffman is confident her actors will skillfully perform their fellow students’ material.

“It is very challenging, but these kids are hard-working and they’re talented,” Hoffman said. “They will rise to the occasion.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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