Inwood thespians heading for international festival

May 14, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

INWOOD, W.Va. - After acing regional and state acting competitions, a group of Musselman High School thespians are heading to Nebraska next month to take on the world.

The students will perform "White Room of My Remembering," a story of reminiscences and hard decisions.

Jessie, the main character, returns as an adult to her childhood farm home in rural Pennsylvania. She sets out to sell the property after her parents die, but she develops sharp doubts when she comes home.

Michael Stiles, the director of the Musselman Theater Department and the play, and another adult chaperone will accompany nine students - six in the cast, three in the technical crew - to the festival.

The trip will cost $8,000. Stiles said Musselman Principal Kitty Cauffman provided the money up front, and fund raising is underway to pay the school district back. Numerous area businesses have contributed products and services.


The Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg is collecting money at one of its performances of "Godspell," at which Musselman student actors will be ushers.

The Musselman troupe will present a special performance of "White Room" at the school on Thursday as a fund-raiser. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. and the show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person, $25 per couple. Tickets are available by calling 1-304-229-1900.

Cast members figure the international festival will be a big thrill, and possibly more.

"When I thought about it, I said, 'This could be the big break for everyone,'" said junior Ashby Clark, who plays Papa, Jessie's father.

Clark started acting in high school last year, playing Kenickie in "Grease."

But his preference is production, such as lighting and cueing tapes. "I love acting, but then there's the technical side and that's what I love more than anything," he said.

"He likes to tackle a problem and see the results, the physical results," Stiles said.

For Annelyse Haislip, who plays Young Jess, the main character as a teenager, the festival is "huge."

"It's very, very big. It's a dream, something that would never happen to me," she said.

The festival fits nicely into a schedule of goals mapped out by Haislip, an eighth-grader taking accelerated classes. She wants to be valedictorian of her high school graduating class; valedictorian of her Yale University class, after a double major in mathematics and dramatic arts; and a professional stage actress on Broadway.

Sarah Spritzer, a sophomore playing the adult Jessie, said the festival is "one of the most amazing things that could happen."

After acting in four or five school shows and working on production for a few others, she decided she wants to direct. "I like to be in charge," she admitted.

Spritzer said her current role has been her most challenging.

As Jessie, she recites her lines alone, since they represent her thoughts. "It feels like a big monologue," she said.

It's a stirring part. She plays a woman facing childhood tensions all over again, including the reemergence of her first love, plus guilt for not attending her mother's funeral.

Spritzer said she prepared herself mentally by imagining what life would be like without her own mother, who recently had back surgery.

There was also the added difficulty of acting in the same play as Clark, her boyfriend. Spritzer said she had to adjust to interacting with him in character.

Haislip sees Young Jess as "flamboyant."

"She has a mind of her own, but she likes to stand outside the box and watch how everyone else is moving," she said. "She is artistic. She loves to paint."

One of the pivotal conflicts in the play comes when Jess' father, who instilled in her his love for art, calls her in to paint. At the same time, Jess' mother, who wants her daughter to be a housewife, urges her to bake a pie for her boyfriend, Stiles said.

Jess later moves away to become an artist, which is tough for her father to bear. "He doesn't want her to go to New York, but he realizes he's got to let her go," said Clark.

High school students find it tough to relate to adult Jessie's sad duties when she returns home, Stiles said, but many adults can empathize. Several audience members whose parents died have been moved to tears, he said.

Stiles said the "White Room" cast won 10 local and statewide awards.

At the state competition in Charleston, W.Va., Clark was named outstanding supporting actor. Haislip and Spritzer were nominated to the all-state festival cast.

Two West Virginia schools are chosen every two years to participate in the Regional Play Marathon at the International Thespian Festival, Stiles said.

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