Staples Players' production examines line between fantasy and reality
in Book of Days, art imitates life, imitates art, imitates life
Art, in any form, should inspire, transform and evoke a reaction. No matter what the discipline -- fine arts, music, film, writing, dance and acting -- when done well, it affects a change of some sort in the audience.
And, the artists themselves are changed
This year several members of the award-winning Staples Players are continuing their education in theater at highly selective universities and music conservatories.
Many of these talented actors are featured in Book of Days, by Lanford Wilson, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 13, 14, and 15, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 16, at 3 p.m.
Parental guidance is strongly recommended for strong language and subject matter. No one under 10 years will be admitted.
Directed by David Roth and Kerry Long, the production features 12 veteran high school actors from the junior and senior classes. Nine cast members are graduating seniors who will study theater in college this fall.
The performers say their commitment and passion was fueled during their tenure in Westport schools.
Her acting colleague, and friend, Maya Hubbard, also 17, was informed on the same day last fall that she, too, would be attending the same prestigious college.
A relative newcomer to the high school theater scene, Walsh joined Staples Players two years ago as a junior. "Hubbard was one of the first people that I met and she was so sweet and welcoming," said Walsh. "It's so great that we will both be going to New York together and studying at the same studio."
Before joining the Staples Players and "falling in love with acting," Walsh was an accomplished gymnast and regularly competed in national competitions.
"If anyone had told me as a freshman that I would be going to school for theater, I would have laughed at them," she admitted. "For me, it was gymnastics all of the time."
However, when she was ready for a change, Walsh turned to the school's theater program because she had heard from her close friends about how much fun it was.
Having participated in only a handful of shows, Walsh is pleased to have landed the lead role in Book of Days.
She credits David Roth, head of Staples' drama department and the Staples Players, with helping her to create the character. "I knew going into this that he would push me," Walsh said. "It's been hard but I think that it will all be worth it in the end."
A difficult role for even the most experienced thespian, Walsh's character is a bookkeeper cast in a community theater production as Joan of Arc in the play St. Joan, by George Bernard Shaw. As the drama unfolds, and a murder mystery is untangled, Walsh's character cannot distinguish between her real self and Joan.
Walsh admitted that she knew little about Joan of Arc before being cast in the show. To prepare for this complex role, Walsh read biographies of Joan and watched several documentaries about the crusader and saint.
In fact, both Walsh and Hubbard would like one day to work in film.
Hubbard first joined Staples Players' technical team. She was on the paint crew as a freshman and continues to enjoy the behind-the-scenes work as well as performing on stage.
"All of the different things that I have done with Players have helped me to become a better actor," Hubbard noted. "It sounds like such a cliché, but it's really a team effort. I have come to understand how your role as an actor fits into the whole production."
Roth said that he chose Book of Days because it's a "great ensemble piece, which every actor loves."
"All of the actors have great, meaty roles to tackle," Roth continued. "This production has become sort of a showcase for some of our great junior and senior actors. The show is sort of a hybrid of styles -- its part drama, part murder mystery -- but all in all, it's a very contemporary play, which is very exciting to do. It's set in present day and the structure is very modern -- the characters talk to the audience, move from one scene to another in the blink of an eye and even at times talk about the fact that they are in a play themselves. It's a very compelling piece and we are excited to share it with our Players audience."
Roth first introduced the Wilson play to students in a directing class that he teaches, Long explained. "The students responded wonderfully to the text and were so enthusiastic about the story and structure of the piece that David thought it will be a great show for us to produce in the Black Box Theatre at Staples," she said.
Along with acting and painting, Hubbard is also interested in directing and appreciates having had the opportunity to direct a play at Staples. She also made a documentary film depicting the process of producing the school's musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
"I went through a phase where I was really interested in filmmaking and I wanted to experiment with this medium," she explained. "However, I also wanted to be involved with Staples Players."
Hubbard also felt that the Staples' shows are highly regarded and yet audience members don't realize what goes into preparing for the sold-out productions.
She said that a turning point in her aspirations took place as she stood on-stage at the end of the play Romeo and Juliet, staged at Staples a few years ago, and heard people sobbing in the audience.
"I realized that we made people feel something," she explained. "Acting is one of the few disciplines where you could affect people in this way. I realized that I needed to do this with my life. As a humanitarian, I needed to do something that would make people feel."
Dan Shure, who portrays Walsh's husband in the play, began appearing on the Staples stage while he was still in elementary school. With two older sisters, Caitlin and Jessie, involved with the high school theater department, he auditioned whenever they needed a younger cast member. His resume includes playing Winthrop in The Music Man and young Tommy in the rock musical Tommy.
Shure said that it was "surreal" when he finally enrolled at Staples as a freshman and actually become "one of the older kids that I always idolized."
In the past four years, Shure has won rave reviews for singing, dancing and acting on-stage. Last season he played the comedic role of gangster Nicely-Nicely in the acclaimed musical production of Guys and Dolls.
Like many fellow cast members in Book of Days, Shure plans to major in theater. He will attend Skidmore College.
"Staples Players is one of the most connected and loving organizations at Staples," Shure said.
All tickets for Book of Days are reserved and must be purchased in advance online at staplesplayers.com. The prices are $15 for adults and $10 for students. A small number of tickets may be available at the door, however because the space is small, there is a limited amount of tickets available for each performance.
For Black Box productions, patrons are required to enter the building through the side doors, nearest the tennis courts and the field house/cafeteria entrance. Parking for the Black Box is in the smaller lot at the front of the school, and in the upper parking lot, next to the tennis courts.
Future Staples Players' productions are The Children's Hour, directed by student Caley Beretta. This summer's musical, co-sponsored by the Westport Continuing Education, is Rent. Young people -- entering ninth grade through college -- residing anywhere in Fairfield and New Haven counties, are welcome to sign up through the School of Continuing Education to be part of the show. Auditions will be held for leading roles.