South Mecklenburg High School to perform “Guys and Dolls”

South Charlotte Weekly

More than 100 students at South Mecklenburg High School are involved in the production of the upcoming performance of “Guys and Dolls.” Photo courtesy of South Mecklenburg High School

South Mecklenburg High School will perform “Guys and Dolls” March 19 through 22. Theater Director Bonnie Hall said South Meck students have been working on the production since November and anticipation is building for opening night.

“They can see it coming together,” Hall said. “It’s not just lines on a page. To see them see it, it excites me.”

“Guys and Dolls” is a romantic comedy where the most unlikely sinners and saints come together in the name of love. The play is written about the gambling and cabaret scene in 1940s New York City. Floating craps gambler Nathan Detroit, played by senior Ahmad Ayube, bets Sky Masterson, played by fellow senior Jaleel Cummings, that he will not be able to get the next girl he sees to fall in love with him.

That girl happens to be Sarah Brown, played by senior Mary Kathryn Evans, a do-gooder from Save-a-Soul Mission. At the same time, Miss Adelaide, a dancer at Hot Box nightclub played by sophomore Elora Steele Tickle, is fixated on marrying Nathan Detroit.

Hall said it was important for the students to learn what life was like in the 1940s and 1950s, to better understand the lives of people like the characters in the play.

Hall had her class research the gambling and cabaret scene in New York City during the time and wanted them to understand why gambling was outlawed in order to breathe life into the characters and challenge their misconceptions.

“Many girls questioned why there were women working in the cabarets when most were housewives,” Hall said. “I had to explain that it was just another way to make money for those who needed the additional income.”

After learning the history, students learned the language and terminology of 1940s New York.

“It was so funny that I had to explain what a Reader’s Digest is and Ovaltine and who is Emily Post,” Hall said.

Elora Steele Tickle said learning her characters accent was the hardest part.

“I have worked hard to learn to speak with a New York accent and how to incorporate my accent into my character when singing,” she said.

Hall continued to enrich their characters by making up backstories that aren’t part of the original script to give actors a point of reference.

“I made it up and that’s their story,” she said. “I wanted them to act through the backstory.”

Mary Kathryn plays Sarah Brown. Evans said she believes learning Sarah’s story helped her perform better, while also making the role a more exciting experience.

“I’ve heard that characters, like Sarah, are (like real) people and it is the actor’s job to bring them to life. Learning how to bring Sarah to life and figuring out what choices or even body movements that she would make has been a lot of fun for me,” she said.

Hall said she’s proud of how the actors have developed, but she is particularly proud of first-time main stage actor Ahmad, who plays Nathan Detroit.

“He’s been in my theater class for two years, but this is his first public performance,” Hall said. “I encouraged him to audition for the part and he has grown so much as a person since. He really delved into it.”

Ahmad said, “I have always enjoyed theater but never had a structured learning or performing environment. Finding theater in high school has since drastically changed me … the thing that has impacted me the most has been the new opportunity to expand my thinking that only acting theater provides.”

Jaleel, who plays Sky Masterson, will perform his first play and he said it helped him overcome his timidity.

“I’ve learned that I’m capable of performing in front of an audience without messing up or fumbling my lines,” he said. “I guess you can say I learned to believe in myself.”

Hall believes seeing her students grow through theater is the best part of her job.

“Watching them start as freshmen and to see them grow as a person is an amazing experience and truly a privilege,” she said. “A lot of kids get that from theater performance.”

The production of “Guys and Dolls” cost South Meck $10,000 and more than 100 students are involved with the play ranging from stage crew, set builders and cast. Hall said the play is a student-run performance and more than half the cost went towards play royalties and scripts.

Hall, who’s been the theater director at South Meck since 2009, said she likes to change the styles of plays performed every year. Last year, South Meck performed “The Wiz” and the year before they won awards for “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“We perform plays that will connect with our audience members and their generation, and try to put on performances that are lively and entertaining,” said Hall.

“Guys and Dolls” opens on Thursday, March 19. Performances on March 19 through 21, Thursday through Saturday, start at 7 p.m. and the performance on March 22, a Sunday, starts at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and are available at the door.

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