Granted! Most alumni who will go back to their high school to watch an occasional play will claim it’s great and will rave about it compelling their friends to go watch it…even if they’re aware that it’s not so great but just want to support the production.
This isn’t one of those!
When I was told that my high school was putting on a version of Grease in the days leading up my 10 year reunion, I figured it would make for a great and nostalgic date so I bought the lady and I a pair of tickets. Of course, being an avid fanatic of the theatre, I’ve seen many an amazing production from Chicago on Broadway to Les Misérables on London’s West End. I wasn’t expecting much on the evening but I ended up getting a whole lot more.
Considering the internationally acclaimed shows I’d seen, they had been running for long and presented us with a show in an environment of empty seats. Additionally, it was clear that the actors were professional and had their priorities aligned with their careers above the productions themselves.
In contrast, this school production was sold out and the kids clearly wanted to put on a good show more than anything. Some were even outstanding and I remarked as much to the relevant drama teachers.
While the male characters were all from Saint Andrew’s, the female characters were sourced from local girl schools save for one…of course assistant director, school choir master and history teacher made a convincing cameo as Ms Lynch. As an aside, if anybody is putting on a production of Matilda, Mr Clive “Tiger” Mott would make for a fantastic Ms Trunchbull.
Glancing through the program, everybody from the director to the répétiteur was local and it was clear, from the conversations during interval and after the show, that the production injected something into the local community.
The audience, consisting of proud family, friends and the school community was likely disappointed to hear that the copyright licence prevented photography (although the occasional flash indicated some were too enthusiastic about memorialising the memory to care for the rules).
Sitting among that crowd had a special sensation that you won’t find at a professional play. Nobody was there to crit the play. Nobody was there to determine if the play deviated too far from the film from the original play or even compare it to the Grease production another local school had on some two decades ago. Moreover, nobody was there, ready with all social media accounts open, to complain about the potential one homophobic joke in the production.
Everybody was there to watch and enjoy it…and were not disappointed. Parents and parental stand-ins walked out with the kind of smile that shows an appreciation; an appreciation that despite anything wrong they may have done in their parenting, for a couple of minutes, they were shown that they had generally done a good job.
Siblings and friends walked out with the glow of pride that somebody close to them had the courage to be on stage and may well stand on many more in their careers.
Most importantly, the kids in the play and backstage, seemed delighted to have this opportunity and gave a tellingly sincere performance…accents, guns and attitudes with the opposite sexes…all considered.
Until now, it seemed as though, in theatre, we were only allowed to be entertained by professional perfection and that we shouldn’t settle for anything less. This production proved that even if it’s not a professional play in a fancy theatre, it need not be considered anything less and, by extension, need not mean that we shouldn’t be entertained by it.
Objectively, this was a great production and one I would take my friends to. Even if they were not from my high school, with sentiment removed, it’s still enjoyable and something I suspect the Bloemfontein community is rarely treated to. Unfortunately, I have no scouting friends in Bloem otherwise I would have taken them too but the professionalism of the program allowed me to send some names through.
As director with skills honed all over the country beginning at Eunice Girls’ School, Wendy Stone and her team did a phenomenal job of preparing and coaching the kids to pull this off.
Moreover, they did an excellent job of bringing a community together in a hall to share an experience vested in joy.
Most importantly, they did a tremendous job of injecting a little bit more culture into the lives of the children, their families and the community.
Here’s to hoping for more plays from more schools as the realisation of their real value to the community manifests. Here’s to hoping for more demand for the cultural of the curriculum from the Bloemfontein community. Here’s to Saint Andrew’s for, once again, showing how it’s done!