Student-presented play makes high-school debut, depicts thorny teen issuesPlay director and well-known local artist David Markson describes the storyline of “Emergency Prom” as not appropriate for young children and probably not the kind of production people would take their grandparents to see.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Play director and well-known local artist David Markson describes the storyline of “Emergency Prom” as not appropriate for young children and probably not the kind of production people would take their grandparents to see.
He admits, “It pushes some boundaries.”
Markson said the play -- which runs 7 p.m. on the nights of March 29, 30 and 31, at the high school auditorium -- wraps comedy, drama, difficult teen issues and a student cast all into one production that should make for great entertainment.
Tickets will be sold at the door for $10 per adult and $5 per student.
The play’s run time is about 90 minutes including an intermission.
Markson said the production’s run in River Falls marks its first time to be presented at the high school level, as well as to be acted and produced by teen students.
The director worked closely with playwright Steve Moulds, as well as River Falls High School Principal Elaine Baumann to revise the play’s language.
Markson says the story focuses on teen relationships and the fact that everyone just wants to be loved. It unfolds after kids decide the regular prom was so terrible that they need a “do-over prom.”
The director says except for some adult guidance here and there, there are 17 actors plus other young people building the set and orchestrating all the technical aspects like lighting, sound, costumes and publicity.
“What makes it contemporary is that it acknowledges how kids are facing difficult choices in high school,” said Markson, including decisions about sexual activity and the relationships they choose for themselves.
The director describes it as a funny play that addresses serious issues.
Markson had to check with parents and make sure they were informed. Some did not think it was appropriate; others said sure; a few left the decision to their teen.
Markson emphasizes that the production comes from the collaborative, contractual partnership formed in recent years between the high school and the River Falls Community Theatre.
RFCT funds and produces at least two productions per year, one of which is to be with all-student actors. Every other year, the partners present a musical.
Markson, who usually fulfills many behind-the-scenes roles such as building sets, decided he’d take a crack at directing.
As the group brainstormed ideas, said Markson, “I was looking for a play where high school kids could play high school kids.”
He talked to another director, theater professional and former resident Danette Olson, who steered him to Moulds’ work. Markson thought it was a bit edgy but liked the story.
The cast has been rehearsing three nights since early February. This week, they start rehearsing every night.
Markson hasn’t confirmed it yet but says the production might include a ‘talkback session’ afterward in which audience members can ask questions about the materials or processes.
He’d like to see an open dialogue about whether the production was a good thing to do at the high school.
Kaija Warner, 16, is the production’s costume designer and plays the character Brandy.
Warner said she jumped at the chance to act in the play because she loves theater -- not only acting onstage but also behind the scenes as well.
Warner said she’s been surprised by how well the teenaged cast has stepped up to take responsibility for the show, especially in recent weeks.
Asked about how the play applies to teens, Warner said, “I think the issues in “Emergency Prom” are extremely relevant to teens and high school students.
“Some of the main problems are about acceptance and discovering yourself, which can be hard in high school. Some of the issues are exaggerated, that’s what happens in theater.”
She said the story reveals, among other things, what happens when someone tries to be something they’re not.
Emily Gjerde, 15, plays Melissa in the production, an openly gay teenage girl. Gjerde said the play focuses on themes that people her age deal with daily.
“The real-life high school experience is much like the one in ‘Emergency Prom,’” she said. “Teens deal with relationships, fear of the future, and we’re constantly trying to figure out who we are.”
She said the play demonstrates that things don’t always turn out like someone might expect but shows there are always people to support and help others through their tough times.
Gjerde said, “It also shows how high school isn't the end of the world, merely the beginning of it!”
The young actress says her role as an openly gay teen girl has been controversial and interesting. S
She said she’s extremely glad to be doing the play and giving a voice to that community, because many teens like ‘Melissa’ are harassed and bullied constantly.
Gjerde hopes her strong character will be an inspiration to teenagers dealing with similar issues.
Steve Moulds, the play’s author, said “Emergency Prom” has always been intended for audiences of high school and college ages.
He said the play taps into the emotional time of the end of the school year, which for many can be a melancholy time.
The story unfolds with students suggesting a “do-over” prom to correct mistakes made in the first one. It addresses the importance of befriending and accepting gay teens, who Moulds says should get to have great proms, too.
“When I wrote the play, I knew it would only have a future in educational institutions,” he said. “And hopefully, the students will recognize some things that they’ve thought about or experienced. I tried to write what I felt was a realistic high school experience -- more innocent at heart than a lot of movies like to portray high school, but at the same time more complicated than we probably remember it years later.”
He said the “do-over” prom seemed a “useful lens” for exploring expectations and disappointments and for demonstrating that how teens deal with those issues somewhat defines how they’ll be as adults.
He says there is no profanity but some discussion about sex. While he realizes not every teen is sexually active, he thought failing to acknowledge sex at a high school prom would not ring true.
“What different people find offensive or objectionable, of course, is on a spectrum, but at its core, “Emergency Prom” has a good heart,” Moulds said. “I would rather students produce a play with a few dirty jokes that is nevertheless hopeful about love and friendship, than one that is perfectly clean but is pessimistic about human nature.”