Original dramatic production to bring bullying issues to light
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Mon., Mar. 7, 2011
Known for producing shows that deal with heavier subject matter, Ellington High School's Opening Knight Players are once again preparing a serious drama for local audiences, as well as for the upcoming Connecticut Drama Association Festival.
“Where the Sun is Silent” was penned by director/advisor Will Prenetta during his current sabbatical from teaching, and deals with the bullying and 2008 suicide of Phoebe Prince, the teen from South Hadley, Mass.
“I took the year off to do some writing,” Prenetta said. “This is one of the pieces that came out of that. I was inspired by Phoebe Prince, who was a young lady from Ireland. I did a lot of research on her life. She had a pretty complex background – suicide attempts in the past, she did some of her own bullying in Ireland, her family was separated. It's not as simple as people think.”
Prenetta said he fictionalized some of the characters, such as Prince’s friends and bullies, in order to home in on the message he wants audiences to come away with.
“It’s really meant for high-school students and adults,” Prenetta said. “The subject matter is not simple. The topic seems to be on everybody's minds today.”
The cast of 12 includes a seven-actor “chorus” whose members play various roles in the 45-minute play’s 30 scenes.
Prenetta said the play is also a work in progress, and the cast is contributing to many of the changes.
“I want their input,” he said, “as to what's realistic for teenagers. They help me make it more authentic. I'm open to the collaborative process.”
Senior Kady Joy, who plays Phoebe Prince, said she studied a lot of the facts about Prince's life, and playing the character has been difficult and draining. Joy’s real-life best friend, Kelly Stauffer, plays her enemy, Erika, a bully in the show, and the two have a physical altercation.
“It's been hard,” Joy said. “She was a tragic sort of girl. It's been hard trying to get into someone who was so completely sad, alone and desperate. Now I'm with my friends onstage who push me to the ground and call me names.”
“It's very different from who I normally am,” Stauffer said. “[To get into character], I take a moment to myself and concentrate.”
Andy Roets plays Mike Rivers, the stereotypical captain of the football team, who cheats on his girlfriend with Prince.
“I'm trying to get with her while trying to keep my cheerleader girlfriend, Britney,” Roets said. “Instead of hating me, Britney and her friends start terrorizing Phoebe.”
Roets said that situation speaks to some other messages in the show. “Some girls will do anything to have a boyfriend, and they’d rather make one girl's life hell than accept that her boyfriend is a cheating scumbag,” he said. “It happens all the time.”
Senior Rachel Ballasy plays Irene, Phoebe's best friend from Ireland, who figuratively watches over Phoebe's journey.
“She kind of plays Phoebe's conscience,” Ballasy said. “She tries to help her stay on the right path and be happy. She reminds her that she still has friends and family and people who love her.”
Ballasy said the message should hit home for her fellow high school students.
“Occasionally we do see bullying,” she said. “Not this bad, where someone kills themselves, but you never know.”
“Whether people want to know it or not,” Stauffer said, “bullying is a problem in every school.”
“What I show is the dangers of words,” Prenetta said, “the dangers of actions when people don't realize how harmful they can be, and also the sadness that comes when we don't watch out for one another.”
Following the performances, audiences will be invited to stay for a “talk back,” or moderated discussion, with the actors and behind-the-scenes personnel.
“Where the Sun is Silent” will be performed at Ellington High School March 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. The show will also be performed March 25 at 4:50 p.m. at the CDA festival at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Conn.
For more information, visit www.ellingtonpublicschools.org/HighSchool/OKP.