For students, fall signals the return to school, football games, homecoming dances, and new classes. It’s also when high school and college theater departments present their first play of the academic year. On the slate this autumn are three varied productions offered up by Dos Pueblos High, Santa Barbara High, and Santa Barbara City College.
Read on to find out what each educational institution is bringing to the stage.
Twelve Angry Jurors
Dos Pueblos High
This 1957-penned courtroom drama takes audiences behind the scenes with a dozen jurors who must decide the fate of a teenager accused of stabbing his father to death. It’s a taut, edge-of-your-seat story that explores the American justice system.
For Clark Sayre, DP’s theater director, the play provided some exciting challenges for students to explore. “It’s a classic and a super-strong ensemble show requiring every actor onstage during the entire show,” he said. “Since it’s a small-cast show, we have an opportunity to develop unique relationships/reactions among all the characters.”
Another reason the play was chosen was for its bearing in today’s society. “Our justice system and the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ idea is one that is at the center of current discourse and the core of this play,” explained Sayre. “The jurors grapple with many issues that are highly relevant today, including weighing evidence and interpreting ‘facts’ in order to discover truth, responding to peer pressure, unmasking underlying racial prejudice, dealing with hurtful past experiences, and many more.”
Originally written for an all-male cast (i.e., Twelve Angry Men), Sayre found it tricky to take parts written for males and turn them into female roles. “We were encouraged early in our rehearsal period by Santa Barbara native and Broadway Tony Award winner Cady Huffman, who was at the time directing a star-studded all-female version of the play. She spoke to us about some of the directing decisions she made.”
Audiences can also expect a unique seating arrangement — rather than filling the 750-plus-seat theater, only 100 people will be allowed in. “We utilize a thrust stage where the entire audience sits onstage,” said Sayre. “This gives the play a very intimate setting and gives the actors the experience of playing in a small black-box theater.”
Twelve Angry Jurors runs Friday, November 2, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, November 3, at 1 and 7 p.m. See dptheatrecompany.org
In the Heights
Santa Barbara High School
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name now may be synonymous with his Broadway hit Hamilton, but prior to creating that historical musical, the playwright wrote the music and lyrics to In the Heights, which premiered on Broadway in March 2008 and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, winning four, including Best Original Score. In the Heights is a slice-of-life story about the trials and tribulations of the people who live near a particular bodega on a particular corner of New York City’s Washington Heights.
Santa Barbara High School’s theater director Otto Layman decided to open their season with this play for several reasons. “Our goal is to be the musical theatre school, not just in Santa Barbara, but nationally.” While other high schools only perform musicals in the spring, Layman chose In the Heights to give the teenage actors another opportunity to hone their singing and dancing chops. After the school’s production of Spamalot in the spring of 2013, “we committed to becoming a musical theater school because of the passionate, talented singers and actors who love musical theater and its ability to convey emotion and narrative through song and dance.”
Another reason Layman selected In the Heights is because it takes place in a predominately Latino-American neighborhood, which allows the theater department to “expand the reach of our program to embrace our school’s demographic,” he said. “Washington Heights is a diverse neighborhood in New York facing the dilemmas of most urban neighborhoods — gentrification, rising rents, and lack of affordable housing …. We chose this show to begin the difficult but essential task of creating access to the joy of musical theater through a contemporary, multi-colored view of the world. We want the theater to be reflective and inclusive.”
In the Heights runs Friday-Saturday, November 2-3, at 7 p.m.; Friday, September 9, 7 p.m., Saturday, November 10, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, November 11, at 2 p.m. See sbhstheatre.com.
The Last Lifeboat
SBCC Theatre Student Showcase
Despite J. Bruce Ismay’s many achievements, he is forever remembered as the White Star Line executive who authorized the reduction of Titanic’s lifeboats from 48 to 16 and then climbed into the last one as the ship sank into the sea. Ismay was subsequently vilified by the world for his actions.
In Luke Yankee’s play The Last Lifeboat, the Titanic tragedy and Ismay’s story is explored in great detail, exposing the myriad reasons why the Englishman was the perfect scapegoat. Under the direction of R. Michael Gros, Santa Barbara City College theater students are bringing the play to life for their first showcase of the season.
With costumes designed by Academy Award winner Pamela Shaw, the cast includes Hannah Brudney, Cameron Clouse, Manuel Davila, Lidia Dragone, Aurora Cassandra Gooch, Natalie Grace, Gustav Högmo, Jacqui Kokler, Isabelle Marchand, Penny O’Mahoney, Ryan Ostendorf, Jason Rogel, Liam Sheehan, Mimi Vörösmarthy, and Johnny Waaler.
The Last Lifeboat runs Wednesday-Saturday, November 7-17, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 11, and Saturday, November 17, at 2 p.m. (After the 2 p.m. show on November 11, there will be a Q&A with playwright Luke Yankee.) At Jurkowitz Theatre, SBCC’s West Campus, 900 block of Cliff Drive. Call 965-5935 or see theatregroupsbcc.com.