Of all the forms of entertainment and story-telling, live acting on stage has to be the first and most enduring. From the first cave dwellers re-enacting in pantomime the hunt to the most avant garde performance art, the efforts of talented people bringing amusement and a message has persisted despite many more technologically sophisticated rivals.
Young people are commonly described today as obsessed with the latest gadgets, their noses glued to an iPod or iPad or smartphone, texting and tapping and chatting in endless disembodied bursts.
So what does one make of over 150 students at Garden Grove High School throwing their heart-and-soul into an on-stage musical about a legend that’s, well, “a tale as old as time”?
Marilyn and I had the pleasure of attending the third and final performance Saturday of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Don Wash Auditorium. It was through the combined efforts of choral, drama, orchestral and other students at GGHS that an amazingly professional production was staged.
Now, let me first say a few things by way of disclaimer. We are both graduates of “Grove,” so may be forgiven a slight pre-disposition toward the boys and girls up there. On the other hand, as a long time semi-pro drama critic, I never subscribed to the notion that “there is no such thing as bad community – or student – theater.”
To me, if it stinks, it stinks. Sorry.
But this production of “Beast” soars, and especially on two levels. First, was the performance of Jasmine Agapinan in the lead role of Belle. If you’ve seen the movie, then you would have been delighted to see how this high school student embodied the pretty and spunky young woman who learns – and teaches – about how skin-deep attraction can be.
Many a young performer shows great promise in school; that’s no guarantee of success in later life. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this girl in movies or more later; she’s that good. A long shot, to be sure, but remember, Steve Martin got his start on that very same stage 50 years ago.
Another remarkable thing about the production was how it brought together not only a variety of artistic disciplines but also connected kids of all ethnicities. Looking at the huge cast – including actors, dancers, singers, etc. – you saw Anglos, Arabs, blacks, Latinos, Indians (from India), Pakistanis, Samoans, Koreans, Vietnamese and more.
A veritable United Nations of an American musical written about a legendary story set in pre-revolutionary France.
While there was considerable high-tech in the play (singers used wireless headset microphones), the heart of it was old school. A bunch of kids from different backgrounds coming together – under the leadership of talented and dedicated adults – in person to create something truly memorable for themselves, their fellow students and the community.
Kudos belong to the director, Jillian Ingram (who also did the choreography) as well as Ken Novak (orchestra director) and Kari Anderson (vocal director).
The play brought to mind two other issues as well. In keeping with the City of Garden Grove’s new emphasis on restoring vitality to downtown, the idea of staging at least some student productions in the Gem Theatre and Festival Amphitheatre on Main Street comes to mind.
Those venues are dark most of the year, but (with considerable and creative planning and cooperation) could be lit up much more frequently with the best and the brightest of local student talent.
And finally, the Don Wash Auditorium itself. For a facility that was built in the mid-Fifties, the old girl is holding up well but is still in need of a modern air conditioning system. The facility was very comfortable Saturday night, but one attendee who had been there Thursday pronounced it “almost unbearable.”
As part of Measure A school modernization, the introduction of A/C at Don Wash is in the plan, but very close to the bottom. Additionally, the school district is wary of the cost of the electricity needed to cool such a large facility (it seats 1500, and there are many other rooms tucked away here and there in the building).
A space like Don Wash is more than just a big building to sit in; it’s a place were a band of brothers and sisters can come together to create something that will stick in the memories of participants and audience alike for many years.
Like the very idea of live theater, those memories help us define and explain who we are. Let’s hope that the traditional and the modern continue to come together – comfortably – in the future. The idea, and the building, are both worthy of being nurtured for many years.