WALLA WALLA - An African folktale about a trickster spider is the focus of the latest play put on by students of Lincoln Alternative High School.
After performing "Anon(ymous)" last year through the school's The LIFT program, students are now presenting "Hip Hop Anansi." The Ashanti tale of Anansi, that tricky spider, gets a modern retelling through Eisa Davis' one-act play. The story centers on Anansi's children - tricksters who fall for a trick woven by their father. Yet in the end, they all learn a greater lesson.
Lincoln students have embraced their parts in what will be a show meant to appeal to children. Besides two shows at Walla Walla Community College, the small cast is also taking the play to some area elementary schools.
One of the Anansi spider children is Spray, played by Bailey Peterson-Huff, 17. Peterson-Huff said Anansi tries to convince his children he lost his trickster powers while they're seeking a coveted "Fly Pie" as a prize. Peterson-Huff said the overall message of the play should sit well with kids.
"If you don't share, no one's going to be happy but you," she said.
Stephen Barfoot, who plays Gab, echoed the moral of the play.
"It's about teamwork and sharing with other people," he said.
Directing the students is Jessica Barkl, who guided them through "Anon(ymous)" last year and introduced many of them to theater.
Barkl, who teaches drama at Walla Walla Community College and directs the college's summer musicals, said the goal for this year was to find a kid-friendly play to present to area children.
"Hip Hop Anansi" turned out to be a choice that Barkl felt would hold Lincoln students' interest and also offer giggles and a good message for a young audience.
"The real story is about cooperation," Barkl said.
For Doreen Aguayo, 15, performing for children is one of the best parts.
"It's nice that it's for little kids, because you get to overdo everything," she said. As Two Turn, Aguayo is the deejay of the group and gets to handle some beats during the play.
The play holds some unique moments of Hip Hop theater, like raps and beats played out to the thumping of tennis shoes, and a dance sequence borrowed from the King of Pop.
"We do the ‘Beat It' dance," Aguayo said about the Michael Jackson video. "We actually learned that."
The role of Anansi is played by Lincoln senior Reyn Hodgson, who tapped into a passion for theater last year when he acted in "Anon(ymous)." Over the summer, Hodgson got a leading part in the musical "Footloose."
As Anansi, Hodgson undergoes a change in the way he sees his children.
"At the end he sees how much good they're doing and how much recognition they want from their dad," he said.
Barkl said the play, which includes dancing, singing and audience participation, was a true ensemble work. Along with acting, the young cast also learned how to work together and support each other.
"We help each other out," said Cesar Zuniga, 17, who plays the trickster Ah-ight. Zuniga brings energy to the show as the "hype man."
"I'm the one who gets everyone rowdy," he said.
Barkl co-directs the play with Riki Wauchek. Wauchek teaches English at Lincoln, and beginning this year started offering speech and drama as an elective for students there. And in their first show as a class, the students get to share their energy with young audience members.
"I think it helps them get out of themselves, that we're doing this for kids," Barkl said.