Arts and Entertainment

Students tackle big issues on stage

Above, the lead roles of “Little Women” from bottom to top and left to right Libby Andersen, Fiona Small, Sarah Clark and Isabel Gabriel.  - Contributed photo
Above, the lead roles of “Little Women” from bottom to top and left to right Libby Andersen, Fiona Small, Sarah Clark and Isabel Gabriel.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The four girls sit together in the theater’s green room, laughing as they talk about tackling big issues like romance and anger on the stage.

They talk about life back in the 1860s and how they’d much rather be living in modern day because they think it would be weird if they couldn’t show their ankles.

One girl said she really likes being able to eat oranges, which were a rare treat in older times.

It’s also hard for them to remember little details while acting in a period piece, like not crossing their legs, but they say rehearsals have improved their postures.

And when their director, Bristol Whalen, walks into the room one girl says, oh and we really like our director, she’s great. Then they all start laughing. They seem so relaxed and happy with one another — they really could be sisters.

But they’re only sisters while on stage in the upcoming show “Little Women” at the San Juan Community Theatre, Jan. 12 - 14, 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 15, 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $5 for students.

The cast includes ten Friday Harbor High School students and two students from Spring Street International School

This is the second play Whalen has directed at the theatre with high school students.

She chose to present the classic story set during the Civil War because of its focus on family value.

The book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott first published in 1868 — was adapted into a play by Marian de Forest in 1911  and opened in 1919 at the New Theatre in London, England, has seen at least three Hollywood film versions (1933 with Katharine Hepburn, 1949 with June Allyson and 1994 with Winona Ryder) as well as multiple TV and foreign versions. It was even turned into a tepidly received Broadway musical in 2005. The FHHS students are presenting the original 1911 adaptation.

The play, which is mostly taken from the first part of the 500-page novel, centers on outspoken Jo (Fiona Small), motherly Meg (Isabel Gabriel), quiet Beth (Sarah Clark), and the youngest Amy (Libby Anderson), as they wrestle with the problems of poverty and everyday life, while waiting for their father to return from the war.

“While there is some unbelievable humor, the play will ask the actors to dig deep and play serious roles,” Whalen said. “And last year’s cast showed me that they were ready for more character-driven plays and I wanted something grittier, not just comedy, but drama, and “Little Women” deals with illness, grief, wartime — really big time issues.”

Whalen graduated from Friday Harbor High School in 2006, and majored in directing at Pacific Lutheran University.

Teaching drama at Friday Harbor High School was just meant to be, said Whalen, because soon after her graduation Fred Yonker stepped down from his position as the high school theater director and Whalen stepped in.

She acted throughout high school and still performs in shows at the theatre.

“What it did for me in school was to increase my confidence,” Whalen said. “I never was a sports person so I needed something — and art was a way to experience the world by being in the someone else’s shoes. It really gives you insight to handle different situations.”

Whalen has held workshops for her students, discussing the play and about the way men and women were treated in the mid-1800s.

While other plays during that time period cast woman as fainting maidens, which required rescuing “Little Women” features Jo who often gets in trouble for not being a “proper” lady.

“She does stick out from her sisters,” Whalen said. “She’s boisterous and outspoken.”

As for the males roles — Whalen had the five boys in the play watch 30 minutes of “Gone with the Wind” to observe Rhett Butler — the “perfect” gentleman.

“Rhett Butler has really been my ally with the guys,” she said.

Overall, Whalen said the cast is going to knock everyone’s socks off on performance night.

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