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 Setting the Stage for Change
The drama program’s commitment to the evolution of student voices and views
There is a palpable tension in the rehearsal space. The group of Upper School students who compose the ensemble cast of An Enemy of the People are huddled in the center of the
room. Director and FIS Drama Teacher Daniel Sarstedt paces the perimeter, and as he opens an imaginary door with a view to the students, he offers them a friendly smile and proffered
“candy” or, alternately, a frightening growl. In reaction, the students move in unison approaching with relieved giggles or retreating with peals of shrieks. A group that ranges from Grades 9 through 12 and reflects the diversity of our campus is, suddenly and quite comfortably, united. The trust that they have in one another and their directors is apparent.
According to Grade 12 student Addison S. who portrays “Billing” in this year’s production, this cohesion is one of the many goals of the drama program. “A lot of people love our theater group and our productions, because they make sure it’s such a safe space for everyone.”Grade 11 performer Mitchell H., who plays the role of Mr. Stockmann, agrees.“(The drama program) allows people to be themselves and not
be afraid. Everyone just accepts everyone for who they are.”
Last June’s production, Peter Pan, aligned perfectly with this mission as the casting was gender-blind, a nod to both the themes of the play and to the ongoing discussions of identity and belonging among the directors and cast. Therefore, students could pursue whichever roles interested them.“The fluidity was really nice to see,” comments Addison. “Most of the time,” continues Mitchell, “they don’t even need to be gender specific to play a role; it’s a role.”
In this year’s production, the gender of many of the lead roles has been changed, which results in the main characters being rewritten as women rather than men. Assistant Director and FIS Drama Teacher Sarah Abrams feels this a wonderful opportunity for the cast to explore changing gender dynamics while Mitchell feels this a welcome and empowering alteration.
In the midst of rehearsal, a student quickly approaches Ms. Abrams and asks a whispered question about the character she is portraying. Ms. Abrams looks confidently at her
cast member and says, “You make
a choice.”This, too, is familiar to the students who have spent years in the theater program. Addison recalls wondering about Billing’s behavior in a particular scene and receiving the following in response: “How do you feel your character would do this? You know your character best.”
To hear some of the performer’s comments, one might be tempted to think that this is how all theater departments work, but the traditional production of a play can be rather prescriptive. All components, including the cast, have limited roles and input and the goal is the final performance. Here,
however, the goals are multi-faceted and evolve through exploration and discussion of the material, and with the involvement of each individual student and faculty member.
This year’s chosen play is, itself, a study in evolution. An Enemy of the People was originally written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen to address his own frustration with society’s response to his provocative works of the late-nineteenth- century. Mr. Sarstedt and Ms. Abrams chose the 1950’s American adaptation by playwright Arthur Miller for their performance. Born of an awareness that his contemporaries in the writing community were being silenced by political and social pressure, Miller's version served to both defend the role of writers and reaffirm his own commitment to addressing controversial issues.The plotline of
the original play follows a doctor’s ill-fated quest to reveal
the dangerous truth
behind his town’s most profitable industry.
10 FIS World November 2022

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