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Creativity rules in one-act plays

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There’s a reality show that can’t find contestants — except those gleaned from the local community center where the Lesbian Empowerment group, the Anger Management program, and Alcoholics Anonymous are meeting. What certain wisdom can this motley crew bring to the show’s host?

There is “Gangstaliscious G,” the story of a “little scrawny white boy,” who was hit by a multi-ray and now “morphs into a big African American when he feels threatened,” in order to fight racial slurs and other injustices with his Hulkish superpowers.

A police investigation’s slow-motion footage reveals muggers stealing something not usually kept in your pocket. A quaint church meeting worships a surprising deity. The “unluckiest girl in the world” is finally recognized as an unsung hero. An odd old man offers “Good Jerky” (recommending restraint in consumption) to an un-content boy who wishes to be different. “Kitten Kove,” an alliterative and improvised reality show audition, has something to do with outerspace and promises a different performance each showing.

The 18th annual production of Yellow Springs High School student-written one-act plays includes all of the above and more, representing the social commentary one might expect from a group of bright and energetic teens contemplating the world around them.

The 2009 Yellow Springs High School one acts will take place Feb. 6, 7, and 8 at the Mills Lawn auditorium. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. The Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. There are no reservations, but the box office will open 1 hours before show time for ticket sales.

The event is a favorite for the students, several of the young playwrights said in a recent interview.

“We get a great crowd. This town is just really supportive, the parents love us, and all our friends and most teachers come out to see the one acts,” said Elliot Cromer, Michelle Click and Anne Weigand.

Also included in this year’s program is the story of a dying theater company seeking funding for a “slightly scandalous” show from a conservative patron, which must switch up the plot and characters at rehearsal so as to hide the illicit content from the potential funder.

And, a comedy of manners, exploring an exaggerated gathering of stereotypical party-goers, including “stoners” on the couch, the camera-toting overzealous Facebook user, the “wannabe frat boy,” the under-aged minor, and the sober drunk.

And then there is the play that attempts to portray the lived experience of a Yellow Springs High School student by humorously depicting the unique and intriguing mannerisms of certain teachers. The “Wizard of Oz-esque” production places these comical characters on a path to an omniscient, solve-it-all leader (from whom they all want something different).

The one acts are one of three annual theater productions put on by the Yellow Springs High School Drama Club, Thespian Troupe #4671 and the YSHS Theatre Arts Association. The one acts, often performing to sold-out crowds, carry a sense of tradition and shared experience for the high school students, as many have been in the audience for years as community members.

“I always looked up to the one-act plays when I was younger, coming to see them, and now that I’m part of them, I still look forward to doing them, ” said Eliot Cromer.

And to Michelle Click, “It’s something that is completely ours.”

This year’s event will carry a disclaimer: Audience members are advised that there is the possibility that certain content or language could be included in some of the one acts that would make them unsuitable entertainment for young children. Parental discretion is advised.

The disclaimer is a recent policy revision passed by the Yellow Springs Board of Education, at the recommendation of YSHS Principal John Gudgel, that asserts the students’ rights of expression in their artistic creations, while addressing the wish of school administrators to limit potential offense when presenting creative content to all-age audiences.

The recent school board action was sparked by last year’s one acts, which became a community controversy when a play by senior Peter Keahey was censored for material deemed offensive. Censorship by school administrators had never taken place before in the event’s 18 years; rather, plays deemed potentially offensive were labeled as such for those who might wish to leave. That strategy was formalized after a committee of parents, theater arts board members, school board members and students, convened by Gudgel, met for several months to discuss the best way to address potentially offensive material. The end result, the school board policy revision passed this month, came down on the side of students’ artistic freedom, committee members have stated.

Theater serves a valuable purpose in our society, according to Jim Malarkey, professor and chair of the humanities department at Antioch University McGregor, who teaches a program of classical literature.

“Theater puts out there what we normally keep hidden because of social norms and fears,” said Malarkey. “It acts as a meditative space, a box for condensing our lives into a very small space in order to reflect upon the human condition.”

Those with questions are encouraged to call 767-2602.

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