- Sponsorship -

‘From absolutely nothing to this full production’

Students, director create interactive, full-length play


Wyoming Theater Company Director Jeremy Schnotala handed a list of characters to his student actors under the header “weird characters that show up to funerals.”

It was three months before the spring play. There was no script and no plot, just the shadow of personalities students would soon embody as their own creations.

Director and English teacher Jeremy Schnotala challenged his students to create a new play with him

“I said, ‘You guys cast each other,’” said Schnotala, a longtime Wyoming High School theater director and English teacher who has directed big, adapted-from-Broadway productions such as “Cats,” “The Addams Family” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

After 25 years of directing, the published writer wanted a new challenge: create a show from scratch with his students. “This was the first time I’ve had my students write,” he said.

Students took the directive and ran with it, birthing a motley crew of quirky, flamboyant, funny and kooky characters — from a disorganized funeral director to a death-obsessed will executor. They also wrote and ultimately performed many of their own lines in the production, titled “What?”

Schnotala is working on getting the play published, which will include students’ names on the cast page as “originally played by.”

State of the Arts – Educators have long recognized the value of music, art, drama and writing for students’ creative development and academic success. Yet the arts remain squeezed by tight budgets and test-driven performance standards. This series highlights efforts to protect and promote school arts programs.

(Courtesy photo) Slapstick comedy involved moving a body

‘It was go, go, go’

The Monday after the final show in late April, the young thespians chatted excitedly about the process of bringing the play from just an idea to reality. “I loved writing,” said Carlos Caracheo-Trujillo, who played a widowed husband. “I loved this idea of actually being able to contribute to something that went on the stage. To me, that was the coolest thing ever.”

At first, though, Schnotala and students weren’t even sure what kind of play they were making.

They spent weeks workshopping, wrote two-minute plays, and studied different forms of comedy. They finally decided to create a full-length interactive, ensemble comedy from scratch — with many surprising twists. Because the play has a major what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get element, students couldn’t speak a word about the plot up until the final curtain closed.

Devier Bryant Jr., with Kiara Smith behind him, practice theater techniques

Anthea Pearson, who played a snarky old woman named Ethel, said creating her character and the show was a fast-paced process of trial and error. “It was workshopping, more workshopping, figuring out the basic idea, script-write time, develop characters, go, go, go,” she recalled.

“It happened in three months, which was the crazy part,” said Jack Ballard, who played a furniture store employee. “There were so many what-ifs.”

As they came up with lines and ideas, Schnotala wrote them down — knowing even “the bad stuff was material,” he said. He emphasizes that every writer starts with a subpar first draft and works from there.

As he readies the play for publication, he’s still tweaking. “My computer was open all the way through the final night… I still will go through it in my mind and edit it.”

Schnotala said he’s never involved students in creating a performance to this extent. “We went from absolutely nothing to this full production that had a lot of things no other production we’ve done has had before.”

From left, Carlos Caracheo-Trujillo and Josh Kortz made characters their own in ‘What?’

The Creative Process

Students practiced improv as they embraced and developed their characters, writing monologues that are delivered in the play. They also had to get the timing right: an interactive bingo game and a eulogy reading given by someone chosen from the audience had to flow seamlessly. Always, they stayed in character.

“We had to continuously act, even during intermission,” said Victoria Castillo, who played a mysterious grandchild.

“Everybody played off each other’s chemistry, and we were constantly revising the script,” said Juan-Pablo Marcos, who played the funeral director. “Someone would say a line that would be added, and the next day we had to memorize the line.”

For Anthea, creating a character gave her a sense of freedom and creativity, she said. There were no pre-scripted boundaries and that was the joy in it.

She knew from the start, “I can develop this character however I want, and I can become this character.”

Davier Bryant Jr. agreed. By showtime, he was in character.

“I could just be in the moment.”

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

LATEST ARTICLES

Good behavior encouraged at home

For students learning from home, positive behavior rewards are still possible...

Discovering bugs by tying flies

Northview’s coordinator of outdoor experiences, a fly-fishing aficionado, used the sport to teach elementary students about macroinvertebrates and making their own flies...

Pen pals build bonds during remote learning

How does a teacher create get-to-know-you opportunities for her new class of third-grade distance learners?

Have books, will deliver

To make sure virtual students still have access to books, this middle school media clerk built her own online platform for the library, created a contactless book pick-up at the school and is delivering books to students at their homes...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Pivoting from caretaker to virus tracker

Before Wyoming Public Schools switched to fully remote learning, registered nurse Amy Kamphuis spent the majority of her days tracking COVID-19 data to keep up with positive cases and students and staff who are quarantined...

Babysitting an apple

Ninth-graders wrote apple adventures during the weeklong “35 Ways to Babysit an Apple” project in English teacher Jeremy Schnotala’s class. The writing project inspires creative narratives and lots of drama...

Class of 2021 has ‘test-optional’ choice when applying for college

Most schools in the state of Michigan have become SAT/ACT-optional for the Class of 2021 for admission purposes. There are, however, pros and cons for students...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS