For students, their show must go on

Troupers: Without the direct supervision of their drama teacher, South Carroll teens tackle their own production.

January 10, 2003|By Lesa Jansen | Lesa Jansen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With opening night only 72 hours away, the frantic figure in the darkness of the auditorium claps his hands and calls to the actors.

"I need you guys to focus," Tony Cimino says. His tone hints at exasperation.

If Cimino seems a bit anxious, consider that the 17-year-old senior is directing the South Carroll High School production of Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue, which opens tonight. And while drama teachers typically oversee the staging of student plays, South Carroll's drama adviser is on maternity leave.

Cimino and his cast and crew essentially are on their own.

They're out to make the most of the situation.

"We've not had the opportunity to shine like this before," Cimino said. "The cast and crew has so much creativity. We came together, said, `This is what we want to do,' and we went ahead and did it, pulled it off."

The school requires an adult to be present at each rehearsal and meeting of the actors, and parents have stepped into that role. Also, Michael Hoover, chairman of the English department, is the temporary faculty adviser for the play.

But he says the production is "totally student-driven."

"I'm not running the play," he said. "My role is making sure everything is supervised."

Cimino first took the idea of launching a student-run production to drama teacher Bobbi James last year. She said she initially had doubts because she knew she would be on maternity leave during production.

"I suggested he present it as a showcase, to an invited audience, but he and the other kids felt so strongly about stepping up the level of the production," James said from her home in Columbia, where she communicates with Cimino weekly via e-mail.

James' confidence in her director grew as she observed him take charge of the school's fall play, Arsenic and Old Lace, under her supervision.

To her, Cimino seemed up to the task of directing The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a comedy about an unemployed advertising executive. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow at the school.

"I can really see his understanding of the entire process of theatrical production," she said. "He's got the passion, he's got the talent and he's got the intellect, the knowledge to accomplish it all."

Cimino's love of theater began when he was age 11. Bored with the many sports he was involved in, he auditioned and won a small part in a community theater production of Robin Hood. He has appeared in school and community theater productions, including the Tree of Life Theatre Troupe's performance of Cheaper by the Dozen. He dreams of a career in acting on Broadway, but says he would be content to teach drama.

As a director, he has set a few guidelines for himself.

"I try to: never yell at the cast and crew, respect their ideas and not to let the power go to my head," he said.

Latonya Moss, a junior who plays one of the lead characters in The Prisoner of Second Avenue, said taking direction from a classmate can be awkward sometimes.

"He's actually one of my really good friends and it hurts when he tells me to do something differently, but I have to say to myself, `No, he's not being mean to me, he just wants to improve the whole show.'"

Cimino said the students have learned valuable lessons.

"It's taught us something we can use for the rest of our lives: How to deal with problems with each other civilly and calmly and to talk our problems out," he said.

As Cimino takes charge during rehearsal, talking at once to his actors, stage crew and lighting and sound technicians, the atmosphere is anything but calm.

"Every couple of days it really gets crazy with the saws going, the hammers banging, me taking notes and people asking questions - but I know it's just a matter of time management," he said.

South Carroll Principal George Phillips said, "This is an exciting opportunity for the kids."

Hoover, the stand-in faculty adviser, agrees, adding, "They're in capable hands."

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