Last week, EMS middle school performed “The Giver,” a dramatic adaptation to the classic young adult book of the same name. The play, which ran from Thursday through Saturday, was well attended and, to my untrained eye, pretty good.
There were some interesting touches, like using choreography to denote memory sequences. But to somebody who does not regularly attend plays, much less ones put on by middle schoolers, it seemed to me that it was about what was to be expected from a middle school play.
At least, this is what I thought until I talked to the play’s director, EMU alumna Elizabeth Gannaway, and stage manager EMU Senior Lani Prunés. The stories that they told about putting on a production with middle schoolers showed that this play was anything but normal.
Gannaway started by recounting all of the challenges she faced with casting, “There were snow days, ice days, the matinee got cancelled, one kid had strep [throat], the lead missed the first night because they were sick.” Gannaway stopped and looked at Prunes, “Is that all?”
Prunés responded by saying, “No, we also kicked a kid out, and one dropped out.” The decision to remove an actor from the play was helpful, according to both Prunés and Gannaway, but immediately led to more problems. According to Gannaway, the student returned ten minutes later with his parents, who then “verbally assaulted” Gannaway for more than a half hour, “They called me names, told me that I didn’t know what I was doing. The father reminded me that I was the lowest paid member of staff at EMS. I was worried that I would get fired right there and the whole thing would be over,” said Gannaway.
Gannaway was not fired, however, and the play went on. “After that incident, I got a lot of support for what I was doing from staff and faculty,” said Gannaway.
Prunés smiled and added, “Without that kid in there, everything went a lot smoother. We got more respect and managed to build some relationships.”
If Prunés and Gannaway thought their problems were behind them by opening night, they were mistaken. On Thursday night, the play’s lead character was at home sick and Gannaway had to fill in, reading the lines off of a script. Gannaway said, “I was really sad to have to do it that way, reading lines off a paper. It just isn’t the way that I imagined it being performed.”
Despite all this, the play was a success in the minds of at least some community members. Gannaway said that she was thanked by parents for choosing a play that engaged with adult topics and themes.
Prunés also said that the play was a great way to build relationships. “We became more than co-workers. By the end of the play we were all friends. One kid even called us to talk about his girlfriend. He is only 11 years old, so it seemed a little inappropriate, but I guess it shows that they were comfortable with us.”
When asked about why she loves theater, Gannaway said, “Theater allows kids to get out of their normal circumstances and into their creativity.” By that metric at least, “The Giver” seems to have been successful.
-David Yoder, Co-Editor In Chief
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