If there is such a thing as a sure thing in theater, then a production in which the director instructs actors to “break everyone’s heart and split the room in half” is sure to be one. Deep in the labyrinthine construction works underway at St. Anthony’s Seminary, director Kyra Lehman and 22 actors aged 14 to 19 have spent the last several weeks preparing just such a work. The result is Aftermath, a post-apocalyptic story of humanity’s second chance at life, which opens a four-night run at Center Stage Theater tonight at 7:30pm.
Written 30 years ago by the director’s father, Eric Lehman, Aftermath is part of the 28th Santa Barbara Summer Stock youth theater showcase. Under the direction of Kyra Lehman, Karina Richardson, and Ken Urbina, Summer Stock participants study physical, vocal, and improvisational acting. These young actors demonstrate an uncommon level of commitment to their work. After a one-week theater workshop, they began an intensive five-week rehearsal schedule interspersed with yoga, Chumash-inspired sweat lodge sessions, and a weekend in seclusion.
“That part really got to me, because it reminded me of the things I was missing, outside,” said Chiara Perez del Campo in a video on www.Aftermathnow.com.
On the length of the weekend, Perez del Campo’s sister Siena said, “I felt like it was nine and a half years.”
The total result of such rigorous preparation is a group of teenagers shockingly devoid of awkwardness, sarcasm, or cell phone-induced inattentiveness, and inspired to perform Aftermath as if the very fate of humanity were at stake.
While one quarter of the cast of Aftermath had no previous acting experience, half are Summer Stock veterans who benefited from 10 days of heavy-duty acting training this spring in New York. They worked with directors from both the private sector and New York University, where Lehman, Richardson, and Urbina studied acting.
“The directors they worked with said they were better than a lot of college students,” Lehman points out. “They said they have very good ‘Yes!’ muscles; that they’re not afraid to try new things.”
Lehman is quick to emphasize that Summer Stock is interested in committed, and not necessarily experienced, performers: “The only thing I ask of anybody, ever, is that they have passion, presence, and a desire to be here with us.”
With only six weeks to prepare a play intended to rend Center Stage Theater in two, the actors’ urgency is apparent. On stage, they cease to be typical beach community teens and instead embody boundless hope for the future.
Lehman’s brief instructions before the cast’s first full run-through urged the group to, “Just tell the story. Tell the story with passion, tell it with focus and tell it honestly.”
The story concerns 22 kids who have emerged from shelters to find that they are the only survivors of an otherwise world-ending holocaust. While the narrator is a loner, the others travel in groups: one of boys, one of girls, and one of entertainers. The play comes from the same source material Eric Lehman adapted for his 2006 film Aftermath, in which Kyra Lehman, Urbina, and Richardson acted. An Argentine crew made the film, which screened at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI).
The current theater adaptation of the story is even more contemporary, and comes at the most trying of times. A new score by Urbina and the inclusion of modern rock music emphasize the immediate relevance of the characters’ challenges. They alone survived a world in which “blind righteousness and collective amnesia fueled brutal vengeance” and “faint voices of reason struggled to be heard,” only to find that the struggle has only just begun. A four-piece band that includes Urbina on keyboard will perform the score during the play. A projection screen will display images, with shots from the film version among them. While the show promises to be quite a production, it’s the actors themselves who’ll make the audience forget that they’re just kids.
Aftermath will play at Center Stage Theater at 7:30pm from Thu., Aug. 7, through Sunday, Aug. 10, with a 2pm performance on Sat., Aug. 9.