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ELHS thespians tackle adult themes in ‘Children’s Hour’



East Lincoln High School’s drama program presented its first performance of the year Thursday night with a production that’s been labeled one of the “raciest” scripts in school history.

The Children’s Hour first hit movie screens in 1961 as Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner brought Lillian Hellman’s controversial tale to life.

According to drama and choir teacher Brian McSwain, who’s been over both programs since 2005 and choir for much longer, the play’s title is “a bit deceiving,” considering the storyline’s adult themes of lesbian love and suicide.

Although he noted that his students often prefer productions with comedic elements, they’ve taken a liking to their current play’s adult script.

“We’ve been known to push the envelope,” McSwain said.

McSwain likes to fit various types of productions into the school year and even had students perform Cinderella Wore Combat Boots the end of last year, a story that he called “polar opposite” from The Children’s Hour.

However, he doesn’t characterize the adult script as offensive in nature and revealed how it never actually mentions the word “lesbian.”

Throughout the school year, the drama class tries to perform at least one comedy, drama and children’s tale among four total productions. Students began work on The Children’s Hour the second week of class.

For senior drama student Rebecca Burgess, who plans to attend Gardner-Webb University next fall and take theater classes, The Children’s Hour is the first play she’s ever directed.

The job required that she handle the casting, choose prop arrangement and color, run 80 percent of rehearsals and design most of the actors’ “blocking” or stage movement, McSwain said.

“It’s very nerve-wracking because you have to tell people how to say their lines,” Burgess noted.

However, McSwain had nothing but confidence and praise for his student director.

“She’s really taken this on as her responsibility,” he said. “She’s an incredible kid.”

Burgess has been acting in East Lincoln drama productions since she was a freshman and noted that she may even have plans to become a high school drama teacher one day.

The six students who’ve been cast in The Children’s Hour include seniors Chelsey Green, Zack Jensen and Bree Ayers-Cook and juniors Megan Bales, Stephanie Spittle and Kelsey Keeton.

For Green, being a part of the drama class means being a part of every production, whether it’s in the limelight or behind the scenes.

“Everyone does something,” she said.

Green plays the part of Karen Wright, a teacher at an all-girls school who must endure the “irreparable damage” caused by a student’s accusation that she and teacher-friend Martha Dobie, played by Bales, are gay.

Jensen, who plays Wright’s fiancée Dr. Joseph Cardin, enjoys acting, but he’s also interested in following in Burgess’ shoes and student directing a show before he graduates.

All costumes and props used for The Children’s Hour were either purchased at Goodwill or accumulated by the drama program and picked up in various locations over the years.

“Sometimes we take our principal’s couch,” Bales said laughingly.

McSwain noted that the play’s set and props were built in just two days.

“We got that down to a science,” he said. “Everybody grabs a hammer and a drill.”

Throughout the year, he most enjoys watching certain students “come out of their shell” after acting in front of their peers.

He particularly noted his admiration for a student who chose to take drama this year in order to overcome a speech impediment.

In addition, drama students noted how they become like family over time.

For Burgess in particular, drama class is her “safe place,” somewhere that makes her feel accepted.

“It’s such a diverse group,” she said. “You get to know people you usually wouldn’t.”

Students are encouraging the public to “come out and see the show” and have no doubt that each night’s audience will be intrigued by the play’s surprise ending and taboo topics.

Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door. Adults are $10, students are $5 and teachers are free. Show time each night is set for 7 p.m. at East Lincoln High School’s

drama room. For more information, contact the school at 704-736-1860.

Image courtesy of Seth Mabry / Lincoln Times-News

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