“Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by English novelist George Orwell. It was published in June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime.” ~ Wikipedia
ECE Special Report – Drama Production
By Ellanora L.
On November 21st, the Fishers Island School Drama Department performed a theatrical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. The play was attended by between 80-100 community and family members and was the result of hard work by many members of the school community.
Drama productions at the school begin in September, soon after the beginning of the school year, according to Drama director and English teacher Ms. Hall. Every student who wishes to can have a role in the production. However, auditions are required, which Ms. Hall says is a good opportunity for students to practice putting themselves out there, working for their goals, and having the risk of not getting the size part they want.
Once casting decisions are made, a table read is held in which each student reads their part out-loud for the first time. According to Ms. Hall, this is a fascinating part of the process because it shows the dynamics of the cast and the movement from the directors’ expectations to how people actually fit characters. The rehearsal process is made more challenging because of time constraints, particularly working with cross-country which goes on at the same time. But Meg, a senior who has been involved in drama since sixth grade said, “the show came together by the time of the performance.” She described the experience of being in a production as simultaneously exciting, stressful, and rewarding.
Avery — a seventh grade student who had her first speaking part in a play as part of this production — described the process as chaotic and busy but fun.
Ms. Hall says that going into a play she has a vision of the production ahead of time but that doesn’t mean it has to end up that way. Because the process is influenced by the actors, the rehearsal process varies each year and functions like a workshop. This is different from other high school drama departments, which Ms. Hall says, “tend to have more rigid direction.” She prefers this set-up because it allows the students to better understand the text.
This year’s play, 1984, is based off of George Orwell’s well-known dystopian novel. Ms. Hall said that she wanted to perform this difficult piece to expose students to a new type of literature. She is proud that the department has continuously focused on presenting a variety of productions, but in previous years they had all had some element of humor. This year she wanted to expose the students to straight drama and the challenges unique to this genre.
Meg stated “it was fun and challenging to do a play with such a high quality of writing and complex plot,” and she agreed with Ms. Hall that it was refreshing to do such a serious play and eye-opening for her particularly to be able to play a villain.
Ms. Hall also chose this play in particular for its timely subject matter and Meg agreed that it gave an “interesting way to look at the world in today’s society.”
This play has a number of stage adaptations, though Ms. Hall said the one performed was chosen because it had the amount of characters that best fit the number of interested student-actors. In addition, it took a number of supporting characters and combined them. This created side characters with gray motivations that were more interesting for both the actors and the audience.
According to Ms. Hall, one of the strengths of the Fishers Island drama department, and one of her goals as a director, is that students participate in many ways and see their visions realized. One example of this is the Graphic Layout class, led by art teacher Ms. Sawyer. This class generally focuses on the yearbook, but has also helped various school productions with creating programs and fliers in the past.
This year the Graphic Layout class helped the drama department create a number of promotional and interactive elements. Ms. Hall, who previously worked for the creative team in the marketing department for Henkel (Loctite), sought to make this experience as authentic as possible for the students. This included Ms. Hall and her assistant director, music teacher Mr. Dollar, meeting with the students to share their initial needs and ideas. Then the class made a number of proposals to present to the directors, and eventually made final designs based on the feedback they received.
Another strength of the Fishers Island community is that everyone is supportive of projects that the school puts together, with countless people supporting the production in many ways. The Sanger Fund, The Lighthouse Works, and the Educational Advisory Council provided financial support that allowed for costumes, props, and set materials. At the same time, the school is limited by the size of its budget and fundraising capabilities compared to a larger school. In particular it is difficult not to have an auditorium. This limits the technical possibilities such as lighting and sound, and doesn’t give the same experience and feeling of stage presence to student performers.
An innovation that the department worked on this year was including interactive elements to the play. When audience members arrived at the school they were forced through a singular entrance to receive a passport with an identification number before proceeding through multiple checkpoints to gain access to the performance space.
Throughout the night they were interrogated by members of the Thought Police, played by students, and were forced to stand at one point during the play. Ms. Hall said she wanted to include interactive elements because “often during a theater production, the audience has a degree of separation from the play allowing them to feel safe, regardless of the subject matter.” She wanted to remove that separation in order to more fully convey the message of the play.
While there were some interactive elements that weren’t able to be realized, she thinks that the crew did manage to accomplish creating fear and tension in the audience. One particular element that she is proud of was the TV station set-up for Big Brother, Goldstein, and the Loudspeaker that was placed on the same level as the audience. This allowed the watchers to see the transitions of these three actors coming on stage and understand that within the context of the play, these figures are all acting and easily replaceable. Avery said that the interactive element was fun, especially because it allowed many kids to get involved in some way. In total, thirty of the forty-four high school students participated in the production.
The issuing of passports was also planned as a method of counting how many people attended the play. The school typically has not had a system of counting attendees, largely because there is a policy of not charging money for admission since those commuting from Connecticut need to pay to get to the school for the performance.
Reflecting on her years as part of plays at the FIS, Meg said that she feels like support for and interest in the arts, and drama in particular, is growing at the school. She said she felt fortunate to be able to support younger students as they get involved in drama, often for the first time. Avery said that one unexpected benefit of the show was that she got closer with people she hadn’t known before and that she looks forward to doing drama again in the future.
While Ms. Hall says that it is unfortunate the school’s schedule only really allows for one performance, she is so proud of what was accomplished and is particularly thankful for those working behind the scenes, Mr. Dollar, and all of the students who stepped up as leaders in the technical and backstage aspects of the production.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Big brothers Voice
Set Crew and Props
Special Thanks To
Mrs. Sawyer and the Graphic Layout class
Mr. Nate Malinowski and The Lighthouse Works
The Sanger Fund
The Education Advisory Council
Mr. Eduardo Crespo
The Basile, Bloethe, Hatfield, and Steele Families