Student performers at Pullman High School will merge literary history with stagecraft for their production of “Emma: a Pop-Musical.”
The play is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel of youthful hubris and disordered romance, infused with recognizable songs spanning decades of contemporary pop hits. Organizers say the play features frequent segues into musical numbers by Whitney Houston, the Ronettes and Sara Barielles, among many others.
“It’s high school-based, so it’s gonna be a lot more dramatic and silly and relatable to teenagers,” said PHS senior Maegan Presley, who will portray the titular character. “Emma is a matchmaker, and she has great intentions — she’s trying to set up her friend Harriet with the man of her dreams. Emma just doesn’t know how to find Harrriet’s man of her dreams very well.”
“Emma” will be PHS’s first theater production since Elements of Drama was introduced as an official class last year. While actual plays are still handled largely by the after-school drama club, students said the class gives them a chance to learn more about the nuts and bolts of acting.
“The class is a lot more technical skills. It’s focused on the building blocks of theater, and drama club is focused on putting on the productions,” said sophomore Grace Dinges, who sings in the chorus for the play. “The class has a lot more techniques. We’ve been doing monologues and small group things and just (learning) how to become a better actor.”
Andrew Mielke, who teaches band, chorus and guitar classes as well as drama, said “Emma” will be the seventh large production he has put on with the club. He said while the class doesn’t play a direct role in hosting productions, it does provide some support to club activities. He said around 10 students, including Dinges, who are enrolled in Elements of Drama, also have auditioned for parts in Emma, where they will be able to use techniques learned in class on a real stage.
For his part, Mielke said discussing the technical aspects of theater in class has helped him to be a better adviser and stage director for the club.
“Part of getting ready for the drama class, I definitely had to brush up on my own drama language,” Mielke said, admitting one of the club’s volunteers who spent 30 years teaching theater on the East Coast would occasionally help him to use the correct jargon. “You don’t want to … send these kids off and they go to college and they’re like ‘bring in the slidey thing.’ There’s a name for it, so it’s been nice to be able to get that terminology and that kind of stuff down.”
For the production of “Emma,” Mielke said the Drama Club worked with the school’s Writing and Literature Club to purchase 20 copies of Austen’s novel for the school library. He said students who read the novel and attend the play can then write a report comparing and contrasting the two as a kind of extra credit. Moving forward, Mielke said he expects there will be many more opportunities for both the club and class to collaborate on joint projects with other classes and student organizations.
“Because drama class is so new, we’ll see what we can do this year, but next year ... I’m going to try and really align some of my curriculum with English,” he said. “So maybe what we would do is I would pull five or six two-page scenes from ‘the Crucible,’ and we would prep those in class, and then the English students would come in and watch us do them.”
“Emma: a Pop-Musical” will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday and Nov. 9, 15 and 16, with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Sept. 10 and 17.
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.