Westminster students enter `The Twilight Zone'

February 04, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

A group of theater students at Westminster High School are taking The Twilight Zone into another dimension.

Using their own keys of imagination, they have transferred that infamously eerie element of sound, sight and mind from the small screen to the stage.

The Westminster students have taken on five episodes of the 1960s television series from their 21st-century perspectives, while also seeking a theatrical equivalent to the visual stunts of television.

The resulting five plays, all directed by seniors, comprise this year's variation on the school's annual Odds & Evens production, which usually showcases one piece presented by freshmen and juniors, and another with sophomores and seniors.

This year, the casts include a mix of students, some with roles in a couple of plays, to make these episodes come to life: "Kick the Can," "Little Girl Lost," "Nick of Time," "A Piano in the House" and "Spur of the Moment." A poodle and Rod Serling - the school's career coordinator in gray suite and thin black tie - are also expected to make appearances.

But beyond the acting experience, the shows represent directorial debuts for seniors, who are given the rare opportunity to own a piece from start to finish, said Melissa Purdy, the school's drama teacher.

Purdy got the idea for the plays from another teacher at a theater instructors' conference, who mentioned using Twilight Zone scripts for a class project, she said.

"I immediately thought that ... would work perfectly for these guys," she said, referring to her theater students. "I love the old series."

Purdy added that most of the teens knew The Twilight Zone was "some TV series" before their time.

"I had seen like one or two shows on two-in-the-morning television," said Stephanie Kratz, 17, who is directing "Spur of the Moment." "It's all very crazy and cheesy ... . Some of them just were not that good."

But, she added, "I think we have made them better."

Fellow director Christina Carvin, 17, went a step further with her assessment: before she "clicked" with her episode about a married couple and a fortune-telling machine, called "Nick of Time," she thought the story lines were bad, and unrealistic.

Yet senior Kyle Woodworth, 17, recalls watching the shows with his older brothers - and loving it.

"I had been a pretty big fan of The Twilight Zone since my younger years," said Woodworth, who is directing "Kick the Can," a story of senior citizens who seek to regain their youth. He said he appreciated the series for its creativity and original stories.

Whatever their views, Purdy's students have tackled the staging challenges the shows present, such as conveying different camera angles, a married couple's close brush with death and the "fourth dimension" into which one character slips.

"We want to be as true to the show as we can, and to the original," Purdy said. At the same time, she said she hopes the show's fans understand the episodes bear the unique interpretations of the student directors - and the stage.

To depict the fourth dimension of "Little Girl Lost," for example, senior director Andy Carter, 18, thought of using a fog machine. To show two rooms at once on stage, Kratz said she decided to manipulate the lighting, alternately dimming lights in one area to place the focus on another.

Director and senior Tim Duffey, 17, faced an additional artistic challenge for "A Piano in the House": the player piano in the title had a tune for each character, but the script did not specify what that music should be.

So, Duffey said, he sat down with the music director to hammer out each person's melody.

"I gave her an idea of what their style was, and the mood and tone, and she would play a few riffs," Duffey said, until an appropriate tune emerged.

Purdy started the Odds & Evens Shows, now in their third year, in an attempt to ease the entrance for newcomers, she said, and also to create some kind of mentorship between the classes.

"Drama kids, by their nature, are loud and boisterous," Purdy said. "It can be intimidating for a 14-year-old who knows nobody."

The students often form fast friendships because of the time they spend together, but that can also present obstacles.

Carvin said she found it difficult to direct her friends.

Kratz agreed.

"You really have to take charge in the beginning, or else it is over," she said. "They know that we are only teenagers."

Still, directing had its perks.

"It is nice to sit back and look at what you have done with each person, how you have developed each person," Duffey said. "When you act, you get to develop your character. With this, you get to develop a whole scene."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Viewers can enter Westminster High's "Twilight Zone" Feb. 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. for $6. In case of snow, the eerie dimension will open Feb. 15, 16 and 17.

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