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Theater veterans help out with 'Our Town'

November 07, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Cast members rehearse a scene for the production of Newport Harbor High's "Our Town."
Cast members rehearse a scene for the production of Newport… (Don Leach, Daily…)

At one point in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," a narrator gives the audience a guided tour of the setting and notes, "Bryan once made a speech from these very steps here" — the man in question being William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for president shortly before the play's action begins.

He won't be the only prestigious name dropped at Newport Harbor High School's production of "Our Town," which opens Nov. 14 with some choice help from the theater community.

To help bring Wilder's 1938 classic to life, the school has enlisted the help of veteran South Coast Repertory director Mercy Vasquez and lighting designer Peter Maradudin, whose credits include Broadway shows and a slew of SCR productions.

"I've always felt that the plays that we've all been part of, they've been short of professional, but I feel they've been high for our high school level," said junior Derek Hemry, who plays Constable Warren and a baseball player in "Our Town." "And I feel that with Mercy and with Peter and with everyone else now, from this year forward, our performances are just going to be that much better."

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Earlier this year, teacher Joe Robinson took over as arts department chair and roped in Maradudin, whose stepson attends Newport Harbor, for the fall production. The lighting designer, in turn, put out a feeler to SCR, and associate artistic director John Glore suggested Vasquez for the job.

It's not the first time Newport Harbor has enlisted theater professionals to help with its show. This summer, though, the school took the outside help to a new level when Vasquez and two other directors led a series of acting workshops, drilling students in enunciation, projection, body language and other essentials.

Meanwhile, with Maradudin overseeing the lighting and doubling as set designer, the stage area bears little resemblance to its usual self. To evoke a small theater from the time the play was written, the Costa Mesa resident conceived a brick-wall backdrop — actually made of thin pieces of wood — and a wood floor that lies atop the black stage in Newport Harbor's auditorium.

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