WALLA WALLA -- A group of Lincoln Alternative High School students took to the stage of the performing arts theater at Walla Walla Community College last week.
After weeks rehearsing parts of their play in their school's library, the young actors got the chance to run through their production before they present it to audiences Friday.
The students are putting on "Anon(ymous)," written by playwright Naomi Iizuka, directed by Jessica Barkl and described as a contemporary version of Homer's "The Odyssey."
The story focuses on a young man known simply as Anon. Played by Lincoln student Stan Southern, Anon spends the length of the play searching for his mother, who he was separated from on their journey to the U.S. from an unidentified third-world country. Like his country of origin, Anon's real name remains a mystery throughout the play.
"He really doesn't know where he's from," said Jeremy Gradwhol, who runs The LIFT after school program at Lincoln that has brought theater arts to the school.
The LIFT program is part of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds and supports enrichment activities before or after school. Gradwhol said he got the inspiration for the program name, which is unique to Lincoln, by the force that helps an airplane rise. He sees the program lifting the students and school.
Gradwhol has coordinated a variety of activities for Lincoln students since the LIFT program launched in October. He has introduced an organic garden, a dance team, lunch-time karaoke, and is wrapping up the dramatic arts unit with the showing of Anon(ymous), the first play in recent memory to be staged at the school.
Students auditioned for parts, but Gradwhol said anyone who showed up got a part in the play.
The drama is sprinkled with colorful characters who Anon encounters on his journey, which is at times comical, at others sinister. The play explores themes of identity, adoption and forced relocation.
Reyn Hodgson plays a dapper Senator Laius as well as a couple of other colorful characters.
Johannah Paine and Stephen Barfoot said they joined the play after two other students left. Paine plays Anon's mother among her characters, while Barfoot's characters meet untimely deaths.
"I get killed twice," he said.
The drama has 20 acting parts that are being tackled by nine students. Because of the nature of Lincoln as an alternative school, a majority of its close to 250 students often struggle with attendance and truancy. Likewise, participation in the LIFT activities can draw anywhere from four to 15 students, if any, Gradwhol said.
Even with the play, there were times of uncertainty about reaching the show day.
"It's kind of been a roller-coaster ride of who's going to show up," Gradwhol said.
Yet the nine students who will put on the play have committed weeks, memorized lines for multiple characters, and formed friendships in the process. Paine and Barfoot said they enjoyed the play's themes, which also touch on racism and discrimination.
The students tackle the parts seriously, yet inject humor or animation when appropriate. Like when Southern and Hodgson unexpectedly began to munch on hot peppers as part of one scene rehearsal. Both made it through the scene uninjured.
Paine and Barfoot said they enjoyed working with Barkl, who directed last year's summer musical "Grease," and is directing "Footloose" this summer. Barfoot said Barkl has been open to letting them add embellishments, such as extra lines.
"She's cool," Paine said.
Barfoot, 16, said he was skeptical initially of theater. But now that he's been part of shaping a dramatic production, his views have shifted.
"If I ever get another chance, I am automatically going to do it," he said.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.
Lincoln Alternative High School students present "Anon(ymous)" by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Jessica Barkl.
Showtimes are 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday at Walla Walla Community College's Performing Arts Center. Admission is free, with donations accepted for Lincoln's The LIFT after school program.