Have you ever saved a life? It’s unlikely when choosing which play to perform that the Director, thinks, “Now which one of these will save an audience member’s life?” In fact, the thinking is probably more along the lines of, “Which play can this cast get through without killing each other.” But then, Scotus Central Catholic High School comes along and their story is as beautiful and engaging as their performance of May I Have Your Attention, Please? I recently was able to speak with, Daniel Strecker who played Chris Borthwick in the play four years ago. I had heard the rumors of some school in Nebraska whose performance had saved a life, but until now, I never knew the rest of the story.
Scotus Central Catholic High School is a small school (400 students), located in Columbus, NE. It’s a parochial school, and like most schools, money is tight. In Daniel’s sophomore year of high school the Fine Arts had to cut its budget to save other activities like sports and academic extracurriculars. One Acts was one of the things that was cut. [In case you don’t know what it is, it is a short play acting competition usually the duration of One Act (hence the name).] This may not seem very different from a lot of other schools across the country who when forced to make budget cuts have turned to the arts as one of the first budget items to cut. Though this cut is only the beginning of the story, it easily could have been the end.
Fortunately, at the end of Daniel’s Junior year it was announced that One Acts would be returning. This decision made Daniel and other fans of the Fine Arts very happy. They turned to Director, Becki Zanardi to direct the one act play entry. She accepted the huge challenge of putting together a troupe from the interested but inexperienced students. Only one student had experienced at One Acts competition as an assistant to a stage manager. So the troupe faced quite a challenge.
Once the One Acts were brought back and the teacher was in place, the group read many scripts together. The group was comprised of 20 students total which included the actors and stage crew. The group was eager to get started but were frustrated early on because they couldn’t find a script they enjoyed or wanted to do or one they felt they could even pull off. Then they found May I Have Your Attention, Please?. When they got to the end of the group read for that script, “the room was silent.”
Daniel said, “We knew we wouldn’t win anything for One Acts. We had no experience.
We knew we wanted to spend our time well and felt that the script portrayed a message we were willing to work and stand behind.The script really brought us together as actors. We had to be vulnerable as our characters, which isn’t common for a high school performance. We had to spend a lot of time focusing on certain lines because they were raw enough to make it difficult.
For me, playing Chris was difficult. I took acting a little more seriously so I tried as hard as I could to understand his character. I never knew how to say my ABCs backwards until I played Chris! “
The inexperienced troupe ranked 3rd overall at District and Daniel was awarded Best Actor for his role as Chris Borthwick. It was then on to District Competition and that’s when the unbelievable happened. The audience had responded well and the Scotus troupe felt their performance had been solid but nothing prepared them for what was about to happen.
“We were told that a life was saved.”
Daniel, explains, “A girl came up to me with a friend. They explained to me that someone from their school had thought about suicide for awhile and that our performance saved her life that night. They were so impacted by this saving of their friend that they suggested talking to the judges and asking them to let us go to state so that more people could see it performed in the event we didn’t win. Their friend who was near suicide and these two girls were so moved by the script. It was so emotional. I went into my first year of college with an acting scholarship because I realized that if the stage can move someone this much I don’t want to leave it.”
May I Have Your Attention, Please? is by far my favorite play I’ve ever performed. I heard an analogy that I think is fitting for the situation.
A drop of water never comes to know the ripples it makes. (This is true of course because the force causes the water to go out and by the time it returns it’s already a part of the body of water it dropped into). This script moved me and all of my cast mates and I’m sure it moved many audiences. I think it saved more than just one life in our 3 performances of it (District, Conference, and an open audience performance).”
If the analogy is correct, this inexperienced drama troupe from a school of 400 set off a rippling effect in a mighty big way. Who can say they’ve saved a life? What greater feat is there? And they did it with theatre. Is there anything more meaningful or magical? This playwright thinks not.