The directors from Little Rock Central High School, a school and national historic site, took a time out from their testing to talk about their remount of 44 Plays.
Kimberly Dade: In 2006 Ms. Beith [Melinda] was granted an invitation to take a group of students to the American High School Theatre Festival to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We saw another troup there from Decalb and we thought it was so unique and so awesome — going through the whole presidency, just thought it was so neat! And it was quick!
JM: What is it like to perform the Eisenhower play at Little Rock Central?
Melinda Beith: The scene is very personal for us. The kids loved the scene. The show is written for anensemble fo five, but we did an ensemble of twenty. When we got to Eisenhower we were able to do that with four soldiers, Eisenhower, and a group of protesters.
JM: So you’re remounting a production you did two years ago, some new students I assume? Any other changes?
MB: This year’s Juniors and Seniors were Freshmen and Sophomores in the last show. We’re going to do it in a different venue, and in a different way to give them another experience.
JM: What was the reaction like in your school/community?
KD: Because our school is such a historical site, what a lot of people don’t know is we are under the National Parks services. We have park rangers who bring tourists in all the time. Therefore our teachers do a variety of different things to make the students aware of that they go to a notable school. Our faculty were very interested and supportive and complimentary as it related to plays that were entertaining and informative.
MB: The thing that surprised the students the most was that we were gender/race blind [in casting]. It didn’t matter. The words of the president and the playwrights’ perspectives became improtant. The only one we insisted on was Obama because his race is a part of the initial power of his presidency.
KD: The young man that plays George Washington also played Obama — and that was by chance.
KD: I’d say that in light of what’s happening in poliics it would help young people to know that presidents were human. Some of whom didn’t even want to be the president. Some were not even good, but they were all human, and we had an opportunity to see it.
MB: This generation seems to, in some ways, have lost this idea of the sacrifices that were made during the civil rights movement. They aren’t sensitive to it. That became very concrete to them.
JM: What gets you excited about this show?
KD: This is an awesome play because it is a living play. It really did challenge the students to perform in ways they never had.
Ms. Dade and Ms. Beith have worked together for 12 years as production and creative directors at Little Rock Central High School.