Beggar’s Opera, Permian Style
Production set to perform comedy for One Act Play
April 2, 2015
“Blackout”… Suddenly, lights come on and the stage is set. When it all begins one receives bursts of comedy, drama, romance, scandal, and even the possibility of death. Can’t help but cry of laughter, enveloped into the short yet entertaining lives of the characters relinquishing themselves onto the stage. This is Beggar’s Opera.
This year for One Act Play (OAP), the competition for UIL Theatre, Permian High School will be performing the Beggar’s Opera. This play unfolds as a scandalous comedy presented by a group of beggars in the early 1700s. Essentially it’s a play with in a play. Much consideration was taken before the decision to do this specific play.
“I read a lot of shows this year; and I read shows and I read shows and I kept thinking I’ve done Beggar’s Opera before and I don’t really like repeating shows but I kept reading going ‘I need something like Beggar’s Opera,’” Theatre Teacher/Director Elizabeth Cleveland said. “Finally I just decided, if you want something like Beggar’s Opera, why don’t you reread Beggar’s Opera, ‘cause it had been 10 years since I had even read it, and when I went back and read it I’m like, repeating a show or not, it’s the right show for this cast.”
The cast of OAP is comprised of a group of students from Cleveland’s production class. The group does various shows throughout the year, but OAP is the only competition they do.
“What I love about One Act is that it’s more structured like we have to do this, this, and this and like what (Cleveland) says goes and I love that, I absolutely love it,” Senior Kensie Dickerson said. “I love One Act season.”
Once One Act season does come around, students must audition for their roles. For this particular play, Cleveland first cast a company of people and, after many theatrical exercises, had them re-audition for their roles.
“From there it was pretty much who had the best chemistry together. In my opinion, someone else may come and watch the show and think they have no chemistry at all but that’s what we do. It’s subjective,” Cleveland said.
To help understand their characters the One Act group did research on the original play including the era in which it was set.
“A lot of research,” Cleveland said. “I assigned (Senior Ashley King) women’s rights and what were their rights within marriage, what were their political rights, and we all did individual research and we got together as a group and shared what we learned.”
Each member was assigned a specific subject matter to research. Senior Allison Gray says she researched what theatre was like in the past. Dickerson found information on proper gestures along with each particular meaning at the time. Senior Caydn White gathered material on the economic stand of the play, and much more.
“We had a research day and we looked up how the original play played out, it’s really different from how we interpreted it based on the One Act, that was really interesting,” White said.
Following all the research and the casting of each character, each member was given the task of creating a back story for their assigned beggar in the show.
“Ms. Cleveland made us create our own back stories to portray who we are now on the stage, but the back story is never revealed.” Junior Eric Serrato said. “We just all secretly have ours.”
Research was also done by the crew of OAP to help them manipulate the set in such a way that assists in depicting the story.
“We were looking at like eighteenth century, seventeen hundreds furniture and the buildings and kind of like what their prison looked like and how the towns were built and just kind of like architecture of the period,” Senior Kathryn Kettle said.
To go along with the theme of the play, the crew wanted to make the set reflect the beggar lifestyle.
“We did not want to do anything that’s really showy,” Senior Katherine Kettle said. “We didn’t want anything clean, nothings really finished smoothly. The unfinished look really brings everything together.”
Another theme that is carried on into the play is chaos. Together they articulated the play and set in order to portray the lack of professionalism the beggars exhibit.
“I think that was Cleve’s intentions, was to make it like that because they’re beggars they’re not supposed to be professionals,” White said. “(They’re) supposed to have big wide movements that are kind of comical and the accents that are fun to do but really hard to listen to. And then it’s meant to be like that and I think it’s done really well.”
Being that each character had a background beggar, transitioning between the two helped enhance the chaotic intention.
“Every person is on stage all the time. We don’t ever go off stage,” Dickerson said. “So, it’s like a lot of movement, high energy. You just gotta keep up the moment.”
With this knowledge, characters must establish who exactly their “beggar” is. Cleveland states that she has noticed three different ways her cast members have gotten into character: some feel their way through the heart, others through the head, and some even physically.
“For me it’s kind of like day dreaming, like what would I do?” Junior Mariana Vizcarra said. “You create false memories from that character and you make them your own and it’s just little things that kind of help you know, like refer to your character as me instead of her or stuff like that.”
Either way, Cleveland said they all “end up in the heart.”
“It turns into not just me rehearsing lines or saying lines,” Senior Alex Quezada said. “Being Monty running around stage and McHeath, spewing his words over all of these people. . .”
Being that the cast shows the lives of both the main characters and the beggars behind them, the audience is given almost two different stories at once.
“I think that’s such a beautiful thing,” Quezada said. “I’m getting this story but at the same time I’m getting the life of these beggars caught in moments whenever you know scenes are changing.”
Overall, Beggar’s Opera is a play with lots of movement, chaos, and energy but together Quezada says that it all shows just “how well these people work together.”
“I definitely think we could advance this year and I’m really excited about that,” Dickerson said.