It’s different, it’s unique, and you’ve probably never heard of it before. It’s “Borealis,” the play the St. John’s Prep High School Drama Guild will present during this year’s statewide Drama Festival. The Drama Guild advanced to the semifinals of the festival and will perform again on Saturday, March 16 at Collins Center, Andover High School. St. John's is scheduled to perform at 11:30 am.
At its heart, “Borealis” is part corporate satire and part mythical odyssey. Written by Bennet Fisher, it drills into themes of family obligation, career aspirations, and what gets left behind when you climb your way to the top. The story begins when 13-year-old Cozbi receives what he perceives to be an alarming letter from his older brother, who is working in the oil fields of Alaska. A concerned Cozbi sets off in an attempt to save his brother. As the younger boy battles monsters and the Alaskan wilderness, the audience sees dual realities: the world that exists in the eyes of a 13-year-old and the world of his older sibling.
Director Alicia Greenwood learned about the play a few years ago. She made a mental note to keep it as a Drama Fest option. “I needed a certain group of kids though,” she noted. “This is the group. All of these actors are able to play two sides: the normal working people they are in reality, and the weird and terrible people the younger brother sees them as.”
“What I like about this play is there’s lot of emotion,” said junior David Estabrooks, who plays Jabez. “And it’s definitely quirky and weird.”
That’s a lot to convey in a play that, by festival rules, must last no longer than 40 minutes. “On the first day, I ask the kids if they’re willing to take this leap of faith with me,” says Greenwood, referring to the workshop-style approach she and the actors take to learning how to perform the play. “We take our time with the script. We process it. We really do our best to understand the play. I can’t guarantee where this journey will lead us, but by doing it this way, the students are so much more invested and get so much more out of this experience.”
While the actors might be in the spotlight, the “kroo” plays an equally important role in taking the play to the next level. And because the “kroo” has such a short time to set up and break down what must be a very portable set, each year comes with a new set of challenges.
“The hardest thing for us as designers is to find a way that the aesthetic works with the entire set: the costumes, lighting, props, and ultimately the actors need to flow to create a unified event,” says set designer and senior Esteban Galindo-Carvajal.
No easy task for a play set in both the Alaskan wilderness and a futuristic corporate office. And while the one scenery must reflect that, the costumes, too, must convey these two worlds seen from the perspective of both Cozbi and his older brother.
“The costumes were a really interesting design challenge because they take both a serious and a less serious tone depending on what part of the play it is,” said costume designer, senior TJ Grant. Working with only one stage though allows the “kroo” to be creative with lighting, showing mood, movement, and shifting landscapes through different colored and strength lights.
Although the Prep has a storied history of success in this annual festival, Greenwood tries not to think about it. Instead, she and the cast and crew focus on being flexible, and being willing to make changes up until the day of the show. “I want them to make new discoveries, and to really make this play their own,” she said.
This type of creative environment has proven to be successful when it comes to the actual day of the competition, and it has given students space to grasp the most important elements of the experience.
“Ms. Greenwood has always told us that most important part of the day isn’t the awards ceremony,” says sophomore Luke Hollenbeck, who plays Langley. “I love that. Festival consists of great theater and greater people. This entire experience is what you win at the end of the day.”
Junior Danny Bisson echoed Luke’s sentiments. “I almost forget that it’s a competition,” he said. “Throughout the day you’re meeting new people, and it’s a really great opportunity to learn from other schools.”
The Massachusetts High School Festival is the premier annual event for the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild. It includes 112 one-act plays produced by member high schools. The competition is organized on three levels—preliminary, semi-final and state. Student excellence in acting and technical design is recognized at each level, including the selection of an All-Star Company at the finals.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The semifinal round of the High School Drama Festival will take place on Saturday, March 16 at Collins Center, Andover High School (80 Shawsheen Rd. Andover, MA 01810). St. John's is scheduled to perform at 11:30 am. Festival rules limit each school’s production to 40 minutes, making for an exciting theatrical experience. Please arrive early, as no latecomers will be admitted. Tickets are $12 at the door.
Cozbi: Phineas Roy
Absalom: Cole Steeves
Titus: Devyn Berry
Abbot: Max Olson
Kemp: Tommy Bachand
Burke: Matt Green
Rutledge: Cam LaPierre
McKnight: Connor Miles
Parsons: Ben Smith
Langley: Luke HollenBeck
Holcomb: Joseph Giardella
Jabez: David Estabrooks
Zebedee: Danny Bisson
3 Foremen: Chris Pocharski, David Estabrooks, Danny Bisson
The Creature: All cast except Cozbi
Movement Captain: Chris Pocharski
Stage Manager: Lars Purcell
Assistant Stage Manager: Jack Laffy
Assistant to the Director: Spencer Lawson, Ava Laroche
Set Design: Esteban Galindo-Carvajal, Justin Granniss, Gaby Estabrooks, Blake Buonopane, Joe Carter
Set Construction: Esteban Galindo-Carvajal, Ethan Finnegan, Blake Buonopane, Matteo Zirpolo, Joe Carter, Ryan Foley, Chris Winters
Costumes: Erik Martin, Justin Granniss, Ethan Peralta, TJ Grant, Luke Godwin, Gaby Estabrooks
Props: John Sheridan, Matt Pazersky, John Calzini, Justin Granniss, Gabriel Gonzales
Head of Lighting: Tyler Connolly and Jack Clasby
Lighting Technicians: Braeden Cheverie, Jack Charron
Sound: Colin Linehan, Paul Wehle
Video/Projections: Gerald Hinch, Colin Linehan
Festival Coordination: Corey Brown (lead), Michael Clifford, Ava Laroche, Spencer Lawson
Floaters: Gaby Estabrooks, Michael Clifford, Jack Charron, Casey Beriau, Gabe Gonzales
The production garnered six awards in the prelimiary round held at St. John's, including:
Scenic Design (Justin Granniss '19, Esteban Galindo-Carvajal '19, Blake Buonopane '21, Gabby Estabrooks '20 of Austin Prep)
Sound Design (Paul Wehle '21, Colin Linehan '21)
Movement (Christopher Pocharski '22, actor and movement captain)
Acting (Phineas Roy '22, for the role of Cozbi)
Acting (Matt Green '20, for the role of Burke)
David Dooley "Unsung Hero" Award (Blake Buonopane '21)