The lights went down and they confidently stepped out onto stage at the historic Marjorie Luke Theater, giving the audience every reason to believe that they were seasoned veterans of the stage. But these were students from Santa Barbara Junior High School, many of whom were acting for the first time. Directed by Heather Marshall and Mark Johnson, these seventh- and eight-graders put on an impressive production of Larry Shue’s The Foreigner.
Marshall, a stagecraft and dramatic arts teacher at Santa Barbara Junior High, has many of the students in her classes. In a list including Holes and the musical, Aladdin, this is the third play Marshal has been involved in. She said that a lot of hard work went into this production, with students attending hours and hours of after school rehearsals every week, sometimes even on weekends. “The kids put in a lot of work after school,” she said. “In addition to rehearsals, they also studied their lines on their own.”
One student, Austin Wood, was the props manager. “We’ve been working on this for about a month and a half,” he said before the show. “It’s been really hard, but I think in the end it’s going to be great.” With students filling every role but directing, it was clear that everyone knew their role on the team, and worked efficiently to put out a really great production.
Marshall said that it is difficult selecting a piece that is suitable for children to play. “I wanted to find something with a real message that the kids could relate to,” she said of The Foreigner. “I also like the way it pokes fun at how we equate language to intelligence, and often make fools of ourselves by making this assumption.”
The Foreigner, a story centered at a rural lodge in Tilghman County, Georgia, features accents ranging from deep Southern to English, presenting a challenge that many of the young actors met head on. “They didn’t have to know an accent to audition,” Marshall said of her students. “I ordered some accent CDs to help them learn, and the kids who didn’t know the accents picked them up pretty quickly from the kids who did.” Marshal and Johnson also double cast the play, giving actors the opportunity to learn from one another’s strengths. “This way if one kid is more experienced than another, they learn from each other and they both become better actors.”