Sunday, November 9, 2003
It's a Monday night, and the gymnasium at Bishop Seabury Academy bustles with activity.
Set builders construct capitals to anchor the top and bottom of Greek columns flanking the rear of the stage.
Young men and women in white button-up shirts with colored sashes draped across their shoulders move chairs, shift instruments and take last-minute glances through photocopied scripts.
"OK, everybody in place to start the show," shouts drama director Don Schawang. "No scripts on stage."
The players shuffle into position for their first run-through of Sophocles' ancient Greek tragedy, "Antigone." The room goes silent except for the sound of set builders adjusting cardboard and the buzz of neon lights overhead.
A succession of bass drum tones sounds, and the story begins. Before long, a chorus of young men and women is chanting about flame, destruction and war -- pretty intense stuff for high school theater.
But then Schawang and his students are an ambitious bunch, fueled, in part, by excitement about the brand new, much-larger stage they inherited when they moved to the school's new building at 4120 Clinton Parkway.
"It's quite a bit different," Schawang says. "The stage we had before, we had no wing space at all. It was all just stage with stairs on the sides. You could probably fit about five of those stages on the one we have now.
"There was no place to put sets for set changes, no place to put costumes or props, no place to store up to 25 kids at one time on the sides. There certainly was nostalgia or even a sense of affection they had at the other place. They complained quite a bit about it, but they were troopers. They made the shows work. They really earned this bigger stage."
'An amazing space'
Bishop Seabury's 115 junior high and high school students moved from their old location -- a tiny elementary school building east of Lawrence -- to the renovated former home of the Alvamar Racquet and Swim Club in August. But Schawang had been hyping the new theater space to his students all last year.
"Dr. Schawang, in theater class, he would show us the blueprints of the stage," recalls sophomore Melinda Nichols, who's playing Antigone in the school's first production at the new facility. "It's an amazing space. It's not just a torn-up curtain that got resewed every show. This isn't just a stage. It's a new and beautiful stage that we can make amazing shows on."
The stage occupies the north wall of the school gymnasium. Portable basketball goals, scoreboards and water fountains give way to jet-black walls and 66 almost-overwhelming feet of stage room. Seabury's previous proscenium measured 20 feet across, and the stage was 14 1/2 feet deep with no wing space. The new stage boasts a 34-foot proscenium, with a 24-foot deep, 66-foot wide stage and an ample storage closet for costumes, props and sets.
"The move from theater to theater is kind of a microcosm of the move from school to school. It's an accomplishment," Schawang says. "I've worked really hard on Antigone to make it something that will be a surprise to anyone who comes to see it, whether they're already a part of the community here at the school or part of Lawrence, to show the depth of work that's possible from the students here."
Clearly, the student thespians at Seabury are capable of a great deal of depth when it comes to theater. Not many high schools attempt Greek tragedy.
But even in their first run-through, cast members rattle off Sophocles' lofty lines with the appropriate amount of passion, re-enacting the tale of Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, who buried her brother Polynices' body against the order of her uncle Creon.
"The sort of work the chorus is doing especially is a lot more complicated than anything the kids have ever done before," Schawang says. "Clearly Antigone and Creon have an emotional level that I knew would be a bit overwhelming for some of the actors, but they've really taken it up well. I'm very proud of them. They've worked very hard on this for about six weeks."
The challenging play has demanded long nights five days a week, but cast members are proud of the results.
"This play means a lot to me, mainly because it's so challenging and because it's so emotionally draining," Nichols says. "He (Schawang) wants it to be amazing, and I see that and I want it to be amazing, too. ... I've really put everything into it."
Sophomore Tavis Sartin, who plays a comedic sentry in the first two scenes, says the play's quality has been heightened in the new space.
"I think it would have presented well anywhere, but the stage definitely complements the piece," he says. "It's incredibly big compared to the old one. ... People would be late on cue (at the old theater), not because they forgot, but because they had to swim-move to get on stage."
Schawang's junior high students will break in the stage at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a production of "The Stuck Pot" by Roger Garis. But Schawang hopes people will come to the high school shows Friday and Saturday.
They're just the beginning of a new era of theater at a fresh location with limitless potential, Nichols predicts.
"The whole feeling is completely different," she says. "It's really Seabury. It's really open and ready for great things."