CHS to present Fine Arts Showcase

Teacher Sydney Harner gives student Josh Hendel a tip during a rehearsal for Central’s one-act play, “This is a Test.” (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)
Teacher Sydney Harner gives student Josh Hendel a tip during a rehearsal for Central’s one-act play, “This is a Test.” (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)

Many high school students participate in sports or music ensembles, but fewer people have experience competing in speech or dramatic arts, and the opportunity to view those disciplines on the same stage in one evening might be unprecedented around these parts.

Central High School students and staff are excited about the first ever Fine Arts Showcase, which arrives this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Members of the speech team will deliver a number of addresses and discuss their selections, Emily Cardinal and Jon Braunwarth will present a few musical numbers, and the drama department will perform the first public showing of its competition piece, “This is a Test.”

First year English teacher and drama director Brian Isles said he envisions the night as a way to provide exposure to some of the activities that might not generally draw much of a crowd.

“I thought, ‘What can I do to show the arts that aren’t always represented?’ We do have band and choir concerts, but speech doesn’t always get a fair shake, and visual arts don’t always get to be displayed to the public in a forum where you can see everything in one show,” said Isles. “I thought maybe the variety of that would be a novel concept to the community, that it would be nice to get a distillation of everything that Central represents for the arts.”

Isles said he has not pursued any similar event in his previous positions, but envisions the Showcase as a production that could grow and become popular on an annual basis.

“I’d like to have this be something our community enjoys, something we can branch out to the area and show that we really have a special program here,” he said. “Arts are huge, and if you don’t give it recognition it kind of goes by the wayside. When you go to a basketball or volleyball game, the stands are full of people. I’d love to see that be true of the arts. Adam Halpaus and Kelli Hanson are fantastic music teachers, and Laura Hanson is a great speech coach. I like to think I’m coming into my own as a director. We’d like to show off our students. If we keep building more and more, I think that will gain more interest in our community and with our students.”

One unique aspect of the evening, aside from the diverse program lineup, will be the opportunity for students to explain some of the rules and guidelines in their discipline so the audience can have a greater appreciation of why certain things are done as they are.

“With the one-act we’re going to explain: How do you select plays? What are some of the rules? Why is the set so minimal? (We have to travel with the show),” explained Isles. “And how do you select a piece in speech, how do you cut a piece? How do you find your voice?”

The Showcase will open with a number of performances by speech team members, and Isles said he is particularly excited about that aspect of the program.

“It’s so competitive, and usually you don’t get to see that outside of being in speech,” he said. “They were the first people I asked. They might be the least represented art. We’re hoping to kind of remedy that. We hope that by exposing it, showing what it’s like, maybe we can get more students involved and more interest from younger students coming up.”

Speech coach Laura Hanson said the Showcase is a great opportunity for her nine students, ranging from grades 7-12.

“I am super excited about getting together to do a fine arts night. Our students are very skilled in academic competition and it is great to highlight that,” she said. “We are also looking to showcase the speech team to the public because our meets are open to the public but we don’t get the kind of crowds that other competitions do. I’m looking forward to showing everyone how professional our students are.”

The Showcase also will provide speech students a chance to test their voices before the start of their regular season, which begins in about two weeks. They will present selections from two competition categories — Interpretation (where students present either a prose or poetry piece with meaning and expression) and Public Address (where students present a factual speech with the objective of informing or persuading).

After graduating eight seniors last year, the speech team is rebuilding with six returning members and three newcomers. The team will host an invitational competition at the elementary school on Saturday, Feb. 16, and the event is open to the public.

“Our students are working hard on learning and polishing their presentation,” said Hanson.

This year’s one-act play, written by Stephen Gregg, includes 17 cast and crew members, and tells the story of a student (Alex Kayser) who comes in to school to take a test that he hasn’t studied for the night before.

“We find out through the show that he knows less and less about what he’s taking. He was gone one day or at a dental appointment. He notices one question is in Chinese and they learned that on a day he was sick,” said Isles. “It goes from something we can all relate to, not being prepared for a test, to a full-on nightmare that he’s living. He’s the audience surrogate. You get to see what it’s like for this kid who is completely unprepared and everyone else seems to be in on it. You get to see that juxtaposition. It makes for so many funny scenes.”

The one-act is Isles’ second production with Central’s actors, and he praised their enthusiasm and the work of former director Corey Hunt.

“I’m thoroughly blessed to have talented cast and crew. They’ve all been willing to take on characters that stretch their comfort zone,” Isles said. “I have a sophomore playing a 35-year-old mom, I have Alex Kayser playing a kid going through all kinds of emotional struggles. It’s fun to watch them do that. I’ve always talked about evolution being the biggest thing, seeing them fall into characters to the point where you’re no longer watching these students, but you’re watching these characters. That’s exciting.”

Isles added that one-act performances always carry a bit of an edge because students are competing with other schools rather than simply putting on a show for the audience. The one-act group competes at Jordan on Jan. 26.

“We’re in a pretty tough section with some of the bigger schools in the area, but I think the competitive nature of what we do really brings the best out of the actors.  They know they have to bring their A game because it’s not just for fun, they know they really have to nail it to move on,” said Isles. “Competition is always a great motivator, and they do a nice job with that.”

Overall, Isles said the Fine Arts Showcase should be a fun, unique evening that will give spectators a special look into the arts at Central Schools, as well as provide entertainment on a cold winter evening.

“I’m really excited for Friday to see what we can put out there for the community,” he said.

• Tickets for the Showcase are $6 for adults and $4 for students.

Contact Paul Downer at [email protected]