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The importance of being back on stage

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Posted on: May 15, 2022

BY JOSIE JACK

For the first time in two years, Northwestern High School’s Jim Henson Visual and Performing Arts Academy held an in-person play, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Their April 28 opening performance of Oscar Wilde’s three-act play included a female Jack Worthing, Instagram posts, handmade background portraits, selfies, present-day clothing — and a live audience.

Northwestern students take the stage in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opened on April 28.
Photo credit: Josie Jack

Their other most recent productions, like “Twelve Angry Jurors,” were presented virtually due to the pandemic. Director Jessica Rodriguez, who has been directing plays for nine years, with the past three of those years at Northwestern, explained that live performances strengthen a play.

“Chemistry is built off of the audience,” Rodriguez said. “The performance itself will get stronger as the audience is reacting, because that’s what kind of gives the performers that energy.”

Northwestern students take the stage in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opened on April 28.
Photo credit: Josie Jack

During their April 28 performance, the cast became noticeably more settled and assured in their characters as the audience laughed at the play’s ironies. 

One of the most memorable scenes unfolded between Cecily Cardew, played by senior Alisa Hicks, and Algernon Moncrieff, played by sophomore Evan Crawley, who finally meet after having feelings for one another for a long time. Cecily admits to Algernon that they had already been engaged, then broke off the engagement, then became re-engaged. Crawley and Hicks expressed their characters’ rollercoaster of emotions so well that the audience almost forgot they were watching a play.

Crawley said that finding similarities between himself and Algernon gave him the confidence to better become that character.

Northwestern students take the stage in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opened on April 28.
Photo credit: Josie Jack

“Finding those similarities helps you connect easier with a character, and it takes off that nervousness,” he said.

Sophomore Zemirah Kinney, who played Jack Worthing, found connecting with her character a bit more difficult. She was the understudy for Worthing, so she had less time to mentally prepare. To prepare to play a male character, Kinney said she observed her father and tried to emulate his movements, and she also used makeup to create a more masculine appearance.

Rodriguez explained that she cast Kinney as the understudy because skill matters more than gender in theater, and she had originally envisioned a woman in this role.

Rodriguez said after the cast was finalized in early February, they spent the next three months preparing after school. They began with script readings, block rehearsals, and set and concept design. Then the cast slowly mastered the performance, first rehearsing without a script, then running technical rehearsals and, finally, full dress rehearsals. Before Easter, the cast rehearsed three times a week; after the holiday, they practiced daily.

Despite having a lack of costumes, performing in a small space and working with a script riddled with tricky words — “tutelage” and “bunburying,” to name a few — Northwestern students put on a successful show. Rodriguez said she is proud of her cast.

The relationships and emotions in the play felt genuine throughout each act, and the cast’s closeness was evident even after the play. During the curtain call, the cast clapped for one another, high-fived and cheered.

Northwestern students take the stage in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opened on April 28.
Photo credit: Josie Jack

“We get on each other’s nerves every now and then,” said Crawley. “But at the end of the day, we’re close, and we have each other’s backs.”

Josie Jack is an intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.

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