Monday, May 4, 2009

High school thespians present classic 'Harvey'

MILFORD—A 6-foot-6-inch rabbit would be hard not to notice.

That is, unless it's invisible.

And, it was an experience N'West Iowans received a firsthand glimpse of April 16-18 as Okoboji High School presented "Harvey," a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 play by American playwright Mary Chase.

The play follows Elwood P. Dowd, who was played by senior Wes Baisch, and his imaginary best friend, which happens to be a 6-foot-6-inch rabbit named Harvey.

"Of course, that causes some problems with people doubting his sanity," said director Ann Williamsen. "Other people start to see him as well, and that causes some more chaotic confusion and so on."

While the production, which was made into an Academy Award-winning movie starring James Stewart in 1950, did not call for Harvey to physically appear on stage, Williamsen made some adjustments.

"We did have Harvey come out at the very end," she said. "We didn't tell anyone and the kids kept the secret from everybody. The movie kind of ends one way and the stage version ends a different way. either really call for Harvey to come out, but we thought it would be kind of fun, so we did."

Auditions for the production, which Williamsen chose because of its classical and challenging nature, were at the end of February and students spent the last eight weeks rehearsing either after school or at night.

"The kids I work with are the best in the school," Williamsen said. "I definitely say that about the fine arts kids. When we started practice, they were still in the middle of individual speech, and they were getting ready for the Iowa Jazz Championships, small group music contest and we're having play practice. It's just amazing to me how busy they are and the sacrifices they make. They have no free time. They are really dedicated kids and are really fun to work with."

And, because of their dedication, Williamsen knew they could handle the tough production.

"I don't like to do fluff," she said. "I like to introduce them to classic theatre — something they've maybe never heard of. None of my kids, of course, had heard of 'Harvey.' My kids didn't even know who Jimmy Stewart was, so that was definitely a teachable moment."

When Williamsen came across "Harvey," she knew her students could handle it.

"I read a lot of plays and I came across this one," she said. "I knew I had some really good actors that could pull it off. It needed good, strong actors."

And, they didn't disappoint.

"It went extremely well," Williamsen said. "The kids, especially at their Saturday night performance, hit every mark that they needed to. It just really went well. We had some unusual lighting and lots of sound effects and they just really did an outstanding job getting all of that stuff in. I had a great light crew and I had great backstage help."

So good of help that come opening night, Williamsen's work was over.

"People came to the play and they saw me sitting out in the audience and they were just amazed," she said. "They were asking me, 'Aren't you supposed to be backstage?' and I was like, 'No.' I train people to do those jobs and my job is done by opening night. I sit and enjoy it with everybody else."

But, after the cast part after Saturday night's performance, Williamsen got to share one more piece of joy with her students — the "Harvey" movie.

"Now they know who Jimmy Stewart is," she said.

This article appeared in the April 25, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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