Just three months after organizing the Heritage High School Drama Club, the students and advisers are set to present the school’s first play in two years.
“Check Please” is a hilarious and uncomplicated production and is perfect for a small cast on short notice, said Jackie Davis, the second-year special education teacher who set the process in motion.
Theater graduate Emma Kowatch is serving as a community resource and getting her first taste of teaching by assisting Davis with the club and the production.
Davis said she asked about a drama club at the start of this school year. “Students started coming to me and wanting a drama club and there was enough interest that I thought ‘Well, let’s start one,’ ” she said. “Emma joined me and there was enough interest in the first couple of meetings that they were coming to me to do a play. And we hadn’t started the drama club until late January so I knew we could only do a one-act play if we wanted to do something well.”
“Check Please” seemed made to order. “It’s a series of unfortunate blind dates in a restaurant, so you bounce from table to table and see these awful blind dates,” Davis said. “There’s no set changes, no costume changes. It was doable in a three-month period.”
The club is already looking at a bigger production next year, she said.
“I had heard that back in the ’90s and the late ’80s that the musicals here were amazing, that the whole town would come out and it was just a fun night,” Davis said. “I would love to bring it back to what it was. I would love to be able to establish a really strong theater department here. It’s going to take work, it’s going to take help from the community and help from parents. But over time I think we can build it back up.”
Senior Rebekah Kiess endorses that ambition. Because of gaps between drama productions, this will be only her third production in junior and senior high.
“It’s such a nice big goodbye to high school,” Kiess said. “I’m so thrilled about it. I love it.”
She has a brief story about her school acting career, and it ends with “Thank you, Dad.”
As a seventh-grader, she wanted to try out for the school play. She couldn’t quite find the confidence. So she rode the bus home instead. Her father listened to her, then brought her back to school, and she tried out at the last minute. And she was part of the seventh-grade musical.
She would tell other students — such as her younger self — to have enough confidence to get started, take the stage, and let that confidence build on itself. “It’s just such an eye-opening experience,” she said. “You don’t have to hide in the classroom. I’m very quiet in class. But on stage I’m whoever I want to be.”
On this particular stage, she will be Girl, who will cope with blind dates with every sort of issue.
At another table, sophomore Ben Castleman as Guy will cope with another sent of bad dates.
After high school, Kiess plans to finish general studies at Ivy Tech and then study for a career. “I’m not going to do anything in drama,” she said, quickly explaining that the field holds few opportunities. “I’d love to. If I could do this stuff for the rest of my life, I would. I honestly love it so much,” she said.
Castleman, who plays Guy, said the blind dates are “various forms of awful.”
He is in his first play at Heritage, but was in productions at St. John Catholic School in New Haven.
He said both Davis and Kowatch are knowledgeable and helpful.
Castleman said he hopes the public comes to the play because that would mean “we did well, and people are proud of us.”
Sophomore Leticia Johnson, also in her first Heritage production, plays Melanie, one of Guy’s ill-fated blind dates. Melanie prefers to listen to the Bears game during dinner. Johnson said there is no hope for a relationship between Guy and Melanie. “I really hope she might find someone like her,” she said.
Drama is just one more outlet for Johnson’s love of the high school experience. She is on the track team, and does kickboxing on the side. “I’m also in choir and I love music to pieces and next year I will be in the band, in percussion,” she said.
She said drama is a great opportunity, and Davis is a “very fun, exciting, super person” to lead the program.
She said Kowatch brings so many improvisation exercises, “so many activities for us to do that brings out our inner character.”
Kowatch graduated from Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne in 2013. Her senior year she won the title roles in “Aida” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
“It was a good year for me. I got good roles and experience,” she said.
Her drama studies continued, and last year she graduated from Cedarville University in Ohio.
“I just finished my undergraduate work last semester and majored in theater with a concentration in performance and I spent my last semester in London watching performances, and London has really great theater,” she said.
“I didn’t think I’d be teaching but this came about and it was just perfect,” she said. “I love how excited the kids are to learn.”
Drama club meets for one hour after school, and then rehearsal continues for an hour. “For drama club I lead warmups and improv games,” she said. “We work on things for the show like project experiences and character building exercises and just loosen them up and be comfortable with each other. I get to help direct, and I help block.”
One afternoon, Kowatch arranged the club members in two lines, with each person facing an improv partner. With an odd number of students available, sophomore Isaac Welch found himself partnered with Davis. “Remember the time we went to Niagara Falls?” Welch’s side began. Davis’s side answered with an ad lib and returned the question.
Welch said he’s not in the cast. Instead he will be working with the lights and sound. He usually prefers to work on his own, he said, but he finds the improv exciting.
Kowatch said Davis connects with the students, and treats them as equals. “She has a really good handle on how to work with them, and she reads them well,” Kowatch said.
Davis is new to Heritage, but launched her career at Fort Wayne Community Schools before taking nine years off to start a family. “I acted in high school and I’ve always had a love for the theater and have gone to theater and musicals, but my experience has always been acting,” she said. “Emma has a degree in theater and she has experience in makeup and all the things that theater is and she has a full knowledge of improv and exercise and warmups that I can’t give these kids,” Davis said.
“She brings the expertise of the details of theater. She has been a huge help. She has been a godsend.”
The full cast and crew list follows: Ben Castleman, Rebekah Kiess, Leticia Johnson, Audrey Renninger, Jacob Krueckeberg, Stefn Wagner, Addison Berry, Blake Frederickson, Brittany May, Claire Castleman, Emily Doust, Jerome Lechleitner, Helen O’Shaughnessey, Michael Price, Hope Baker, Jessica Collins and Isaac Welch.
Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m. each evening, at Heritage Jr./Sr. High School, 13806 Monroeville Road, Monroeville.
A dinner show is available at 6 p.m. each evening. Salvatori’s will cater the meal, which includes three parts and dessert. Dinner/theater tickets are $10, and must be purchased at the school by April 28.
Regular admission for the 7 p.m. show is $5. Tickets can be purchased at the door.