MAHS One-Act Play a hands-on rebuke of censorship
By Tom Larson
A dispiriting series of events that many young people would prefer to forget instead opened the eyes of Morris Area students for a closer examination in its 2009 One-Act Play presentation.
The MAHS cast will perform "Lysistrata Interruptae" for the public at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at the MAHS auditorium. The school's third-annual Poetry Out Loud competition will follow the Friday evening performance.
The students are scheduled to perform during the One-Act competition at 11 a.m., Saturday, at the MAHS auditorium. The competition is open to the public.
The MAHS students' original play is based on the experiences of another Minnesota school district which performed the play "Lysistrata" for its one-act entry.
The Greek comedy, written in 411 by Aristophanes, chronicles the title character's plot to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing all Greek women to refrain from sex with their warring husbands until the men end hostilities. The women also succeed in cutting off funding for the conflict and force the sides to broker a peace agreement.
The school district performed its version of "Lysistrata" before its competition, and some angry members of the public pressured district administrators to not allow the students to perform the play in the One-Act competition.
But the students persisted and forged a compromise that called for them to cut large segments of material from the play. They did, however, insert lines that spoke to an unfair use of censorship power.
MAHS English and Theatre teacher Dave Johnson heard about the situation from a colleague and mentioned to his daughter, Fiona O'Halloran-Johnson, that a one-act interpretation of the actual circumstances might make a powerful statement.
"When we talked to their cast," O'Halloran-Johnson said, "they said they were empowered. It taught them that because someone says no, you don't have to give up."
The Morris Area students were empowered, as well, both by the subject matter and by the prospect of shaping their own One-Act material about the "horrors of censorship and the emotional rollercoaster the students were on," said MAHS cast member Anika Kildegaard.
In mid-December 2008, the MAHS students visited with their contemporaries about the situation, then they began writing.
Morris poet and writer Athena Kildegaard took the students' work, revised it, and then gave it back to the cast for more revisions.
"It's been a really long process," Anika Kildegaard said. "If you looked at our scripts, there was writing all over it. But I look at our script as a living thing. I think everyone in the cast has had a say about what's in the script."
Reshaping "Lysistrata Interruptae" continued in rehearsals, she said.
"Once we were on stage, everyone has had a chance to bring themselves into the script," Anika Kildegaard said. "Somebody might say, 'I want to say it this way,' and Dave says, 'OK'."
As such, only a couple of people in the 19-member cast and chorus perform under stage names.
"When the script evolved, people gravitated to the characters," O'Halloran-Johnson said. "Most people in the cast are quite similar to the character they are."
Johnson said that younger kids in the audience might not understand the play's structure and subject matter.
He noted the irony in the fact that one school district cast performed "Lysistrata" on the Morris Area stage during the One-Act competition last year.
Melding the original play with the experiences of the censored cast and the interpretation of the MAHS cast has been invigorating, he said.
"It's a conglomeration of the original kids in that cast and the personalities of the kids from Morris in the cast," Johnson said. "It's a composite of high school kids' personalities."
Giving the MAHS students the freedom to create, express and revise material stands in stark contrast to the events that inspired "Lysistrata Interruptae."
"It's challenging censorship, basically," said cast member Krista Matthews-Saugstad. "We're not necessarily saying censorship is bad, but somebody using censorship as power is bad."
Having control of the project also enhances it aesthetically, as opposed to reciting lines from a play written by someone else, Anika Kildegaard said.
"We all have the entire script memorized," she said. "When we're sitting around talking about it, we're all talking over each other and interrupting each other. It's this giant weave of voices, and it's just like that on stage."
The process has been an exceptional learning opportunity. The more ambitious drama programs at schools around the state usually attempt to perform their own material, Johnson said, "and you set yourself up for a whole different process. But you also provide an experience for the cast members that is unique."
The censored students were excited when they learned the MAHS cast was preparing a piece based on their experiences.
"They were pumped," Johnson said. "It was such an amazing experience for those kids. To have something like that taken away from them was really a traumatic experience."
cast & crew
Laura Lou Delehanty
Bess Boever (Lysistrata)
Light Board Operator
9 a.m. -- Wheaton
10 a.m. -- Benson
11 a.m. -- Morris Area
12:30 p.m. -- Chokio-Alberta
1:30 p.m. -- West Central Area