Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Staging a dramatic revival

SEFFNER — For years, 6-foot-3 Vontrey Hill has balanced schoolwork and basketball.

Now he has added another piece to his juggling act: a thick script from his drama class.

Drama is new to Hill, and he is happy to see it return to Armwood High School.

Hill, a senior, is thrilled to be a member of the drama department and one of the lead actors in its production of The Fisherman & His Wife.

"I enjoy the acting part," said Hill, who plays the fisherman. "It's fun but at the same time it's no joke. You got to remember your lines."

For a few years, drama classes had ceased to exist at Armwood. Last year, principal Michael Ippolito brought them back.

"It has been great," said Ippolito, who enters his third year as Armwood's principal. "There's a huge interest in the classes."

Ippolito asked Amanda Ragan to spearhead the drama department's revival. The two met while working at Tampa Bay Technical High School.

Ragan enjoyed her time at Tampa Bay Tech but decided to move to Armwood last year because of its state-of-the-art theater.

"It's a beautiful facility," she said. "What you dream about."

Ragan started with two theater classes last year and added a third this year. She also steered the program toward entertaining young kids by creating the Children's Theatre Project.

Armwood theater students get hands-on experience and also earn fine arts credits.

They learn about theater history, performance techniques and what it takes to put on a show.

Students do all the work, including rehearsals for the show, during class. There are about 100 students in the three classes. They are responsible for each part of The Fisherman & His Wife — learning the script, building the set, working the lights and makeup.

"It's been really exciting," Ragan said. "It's been so great. They are having so much fun at it."

The students have worked on The Fisherman & His Wife, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, for six weeks. In the story, a fisherman catches an enchanted fish. He and his wife earn a series of wishes when he sets the fish free. The fisherman's wife becomes increasingly greedy throughout the tale.

• • •

On Thursday, more than 150 students from Lopez Elementary went to see the first performance of The Fisherman & His Wife.

The play is designed to involve the audience. So, the Lopez students got to wave their arms like the wind and stomp their feet to portray thunder. A few got picked to act on stage.

The elementary school students laughed as Hill tried again and again to reel in fish and then hop on a stick horse. They followed intently as narrator Kiara Hunter encouraged their participation. They shook their heads as the fisherman's wife, Sierra Stringfield, asked for more and more from the magical fish. They giggled every time Beau Michel, who played the role of the fish, pretended to dive into the set's blue and white painted plywood ocean. And, at the end, they clapped and clapped.

Sydney Smith, 8, laughed her way through the 50-minute show and said she was impressed with the high school students.

"The show was inspiring. I liked all the costumes," said the third-grader. "It was really hilarious and funny. All the people were really good actors. It was fun to be a part of it."

Ragan hopes the cast and crew will get a few more opportunities to put on the play.

She beamed after the performance and said it was perfect.

• • •

Ragan said Armwood is well known for its sports teas. She'd like it to also be known for its drama department.

Michel is a triple-threat athlete at Armwood — football, wrestling and track. The senior now adds actor to his resume. He said he doesn't get teased by his buddies for acting. Instead, he says, they applaud his versatility.

Michel is enjoying his first theater class at Armwood. He said acting pushes him out of his comfort zone.

"You can be someone other than yourself," he said. "They need more classes like that."

Cynthia Deroshia loves the drama class. Deroshia, a junior, worked the lights for the show.

"It helps you appreciate the play so much more when you know how much work is involved," she said.

Deroshia is hoping for an acting part next time. "I like to escape reality and go into a whole new world," she said. "It's kind of like an adventure."

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