Bonneville High School’s production of “Our Town” is coming to an end on Nov. 23 after a week-long run of shows in the high school’s little theater. However, unlike the productions that they have put on over the past 4 years, “Our Town” is a play, not a musical.
There are several differences between musicals and straight plays. The main difference is that a musical draws on the use of music and dance to break up the dialogue and tell the story. A straight play doesn’t have any music and because of that are much more difficult to perform– especially at a high school level. “Our Town,” is a drama and not a comedic play, which makes it especially difficult to perform well.
Musicals tend to be more popular with the community and make more money; plays generally lose money, so high schools lean toward producing musicals. However, Alane Schultz, performing arts teacher at Bonneville High School, believes student actors should have the opportunity to try new styles of theater.
“It’s important for the education of the theater students to have [this] opportunity,” Schultz said. “It’s a classic, and the material is fantastic. Students are working with material that furthers their art education–it’s not just fluff.”
Schultz said “balancing education of it all with the finances of it all” is the most difficult thing about putting on a play instead of a musical, but the educational aspect and learning experiences for her students make it worthwhile. She said the reason they haven’t done a play in four years but now decided to do “Our Town” is because they finally made it to a point where they could afford to lose some money on a play, and give the students a different experience.
Productions like “Our Town” require a lot more acting ability than the average musical because, as JC Sessions, a member of the “Our Town” cast, says, “you can walk away and kind of hate the story of a musical, but if the music’s good, it’s not so bad,” whereas with a play, there is more at risk.
Without music and dancing, actors must maintain the mood of the play and their energy to keep the audience involved and entertained. This requires that the students be good actors, not just good singers or dancers. Schultz talked about how music and dance are taught and even emphasized in our culture, while acting isn’t focused on nearly as much.
“We value music and so we start music lessons at a very young age, we don’t start acting at a young age,” Schultz said. Doing straight plays like “Our Town” help the students to strengthen their acting skills and go out of their comfort zones.
Sessions, who has been involved in theater throughout high school, said being involved in the play has been a worthwhile experience.
Abby Walker, who has participated in the Bonneville High School theater program for 3 years, said, “[Our Town] is a really heartfelt show, it’s about life and death … it’s amazing to go see.”
Thornton Wilder’s drama “Our Town” was first performed in 1938 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama that same year. Throughout its three acts, the audience experiences the daily lives of the inhabitants of a town in New Hampshire called Grover’s Corners, from 1901 to 1913.