By Steve Guntli
A group of Blaine High School (BHS) theater students are getting the chance to stage their own show.
“Soldat: A Bittersweet Alchemy” is an original musical written, produced and directed by the Blaine High School Theater Arts team. While this is not the first original production BHS has staged, it is the first original play that’s entirely student-run. The show will be performed May 7–9 at the Blaine Performing Arts Center.
Senior Kini Stewart is directing the production, which was written by senior Kayla Wilson. The two have been working on the production since late August.
“It’s taken us so long to get to this point,” Stewart said. “It’s been really challenging but really rewarding.”
Stewart is overseeing a cast of 22 high school and middle school students, as well as nine stage techs who run the lights and sound and built the sets. Most of the people in the cast are pulling double or triple duty on the production. In addition to being the playwright, Wilson is an actor.
Senior Alex Gehringer plays multiple roles, despite also being a member of the track team.
“Kayla said, ‘I know you’re busy with track, but could you come in for one monologue and maybe half a song?’” he said. “And now I’m assistant director, playing one of the lead roles, helping build the sets and dancing in a few numbers.”
Drama club advisor Shari Akers said she has had very little involvement in the production. Michael Latham, a theater arts education major from Western Washington University, volunteered to supervise the crew and act as a sounding board, but Stewart was in charge of the production. Akers said she is immensely proud of the way the show has come together.
“I’ve known some of these kids since the second grade,” Akers said. “These were some of the few people that didn’t quit in all the madness of building the theater program and have been with it from the beginning, so I trusted them completely. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”
“Soldat” has been entered into the 2015 Seattle 5th Avenue Theater high school theater competition. The competition imposes several conditions on the production: the producers had to collaborate with the Cultural Unity Club on the story; the production had to be family-friendly; students had to oversee every aspect of the production and they had to bring the show in with a $500 budget. The winners of the competition will be announced on June 8.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Akers said. “We don’t have a daytime theater class to work on it every day, so the kids were working on this while we were rehearsing [fall musical] ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ They’d put in an extra half-hour here or there and check in with me in the morning.”
“Soldat” (which means “soldier” in Russian) conflates three traditional European fairy tales into one original story. Combining elements of the Dutch fable, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” the Russian “Baba Yaga” and the German “The Bremen Musicians,” the stories are united by themes of love and transformation.
“Originally, the idea was that someone from the outside world would travel through all these different stories,” Wilson said. “As the production went on, we decided to mash them all together ‘Into the Woods’-style, which gave us a chance to adapt these characters and make them our own.”
Junior Nathan Smith composed the music, and Akers contributed lyrics. Akers said Smith has never composed a musical before, and had to learn from the ground up. Freshman Isabel Bushman designed all the sets, using a cartoony, storybook aesthetic.
Stewart said, despite all the hard work and stress, she is proud to be closing out her high school theater experience with an original production.
“It’s been such a crazy time,” she said. “But I’ve learned so much and I’ve really loved it.”
Admission for “Soldat: A Bittersweet Alchemy” is on a donation-only basis. The show will be staged at 7 p.m. May 7–9, with a 2 p.m. matinee on May 9.