IF YOU GO
What: Red Bank High School production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Fifth Period"
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Red Bank Middle School auditorium, 3715 Dayton Blvd.
Source: Red Bank High School
Four Red Bank High School students cluster around a podium at the edge of a stage inside the city's middle school auditorium.
Amid the banging of hammers behind them, 15-year-old freshman Jaylin Green grabs the empty microphone holder and says, "Hey, girl, right there, what is your naaaaaammme?" in a playful tone.
She laughs as she and another boy begin snapping glittery strands of string at each other.
As minutes tick past 2:30 p.m. on this Tuesday, more students walk in, a few with brown bags of burgers and fries and large Styrofoam cups of soda from Sonic.
A few hold scripts. Most of them have their lines down, having rehearsed three times a week for nearly two months.
High school band director -- and new volunteer theater instructor -- Marcie Smith calls from the stage, "Who's building?"
An unintelligible murmur rises from the din.
"I need builders," Smith says.
Four students walk over and helps Smith start moving stage pieces together, slathering blue or white paint over tape that holds parts together to make a mock high school hallway scene on stage.
The shows Friday and today are the first full theatrical performances by Red Bank High School students in nearly a decade.
Making It Happen
Smith hadn't seen a full-scale school play in her eight years at Red Bank High School. For awhile there were small, one-act performances after school. Over the years she heard other kinds of murmurs, from alumni, parents and students.
Why didn't Red Bank have a theater program,they asked. It's one of 11 of 19 high school programs in county schools that don't have theater.
So last spring Smith asked the principal if she could put on a play and maybe teach a theater class. Her only experience was from a few productions in high school. A $1,000 private donation helped buy construction materials and rights to perform the 30-minute play, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Fifth Period."
Braeden Payne, a 16-year-old junior, walked in to auditions in late October hoping to work on the backstage crew. Maybe he'd help build the stage, set up sound or run stage lights. He had never acted.
But as fellow students stood up to run through the scripts, trying out all of the 10 speaking parts, he thought, "Hey, why not?"
Payne got the lead role of Tommy, a book nerd who's getting picked on by bullies Burp and Bugs. He can't avoid the senior bully Burp, played by Green. But early on he tries to work out a deal with Bugs, the other bully's understudy, hoping to avoid further torment in the next school year.
That's when things begin to get complicated.
Sean Parish, a 15-year-old sophomore, loves theater and saw a chance to get back into acting after a middle school performance at Normal Park Museum Magnet School first inspired him.
He tried out for both Tommy and Bugs. The self-described artistic teen got Bugs -- his opposite.
"I don't like hurting people, messing with people, doing any of that stuff," Parish said. "A bully who's actually dumb and likes to do those sort of things is kind of out of my comfort zone. And that's what an actor does, gets out of their comfort zone."
Tommy's ploy to convince Bugs to let up on the bullying next year runs headlong into one of Bugs' desires -- a prom date with the school's lead actress -- Stephanie, played by 15-year-old sophomore Katie Sneed.
It's a playful comedy with both current and timeless high school topics of bullying, love and prom.
Sneed did some acting in grade school and tried going to a middle school with an acting program but didn't make it.
She showed up to auditions and asked to be a tree. When told there weren't any trees in the fake high school hallway, she asked to be a locker and squeak.
Instead she landed the lead female role.
Sneed calls Stephanie a "cheesy diva" and putting on the role for the play wasn't too difficult because she often acts cheesy with her friends.
She was one of 25 girls to audition for five female speaking parts. Five boys showed up for the five main male parts.
The teen enjoys acting but she would rather write, mostly short stories. Still, acting has already informed her writing, she said.
"This play's taught me a lot about subtext," Sneed said. "Look really deeper and not just at what the author's saying. Imagine inside your head what's really going on and kind of put the pieces together."
Landing the lead role in the play has sparked new ideas for Payne. Days before the play opened he was looking at potential colleges and focused on one with a theater arts major degree. He added the school to his list.
Smith has watched more than 30 students involved with every aspect of the play interact with one another in ways they may never have before this experience. Divided by classes, other activities, groups or interests, they've become responsible and show real care, she said.
She reflected on her brief time on stage in high school.
"It made an impact on my life," she said. "If they have a tough time otherwise in high school, I hope this is a pleasant thing they can look back on."
There was buzz around the new play at school, teens said. The daily news announcement included information about the upcoming event. Parish and others said Red Bank has a reputation more for sports than the arts. But he thinks there's room for more arts if other kids see what's possible.
Many in the cast are freshmen, so if Smith can manage to find more help next year there should be plenty of students to audition. Some might even come out of the dark after the stage lights shine on the group's performances.
"There are theater kids out there," Smith said. "They're looking for a place and I wanted to have another opportunity for them."
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...