By ANGYE MORRISON
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a fantasy novel by C.S. Lewis, read and experienced in the theater by millions. The story will be brought to life by students in the Fine Arts program at Statesboro High School this month.
Under the direction of Eddie Frazier, drama teacher at SHS, along with student directors Ragen Simmons and Abigayle Gunter, two casts will perform. Cast A will feature Aslan the Lion portrayed by Hayne Woodward, and Jadis the White Witch portrayed by Samantha Warren. Cast B will feature Ryan Wolfe as Aslan, and Mackenzie Harvey as Jadis.
For Gunter, directing is a great opportunity to help the actors bring out the best in their characters.
“I encourage them to make their own character choices, and make sure I do not direct every small movement they make. I have found this best allows the actors to bring out their character’s true personality,” she said.
Gunter also says that helping the actors in this way, and watching them transform into that character on stage is “truly incredible.”
“It is such a rewarding experience to watch such an amazing cast work so hard on this show, and see it all finally come together,” she said.
For all four actors, this production isn’t their first.
Harvey has been in the fine arts community her whole life, and most recently played the part of Elsa in “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” Having been raised by a singer/songwriter and a public speaker, she says she’s “very accustomed to performing and thinking creatively.”
Harvey was in a previous production of the same show, portraying the white stag. But she knew when she auditioned that this time, she wanted a lead role.
“I knew I wanted to aim for Jadis because she’s got so much character and she’s evil through and through. I've never played the bad guy, and I wanted to challenge myself, so I’m really glad I got this role,” she said.
To prepare, Harvey says she has been watching everything she can about the character.
“Jadis is a particularly tricky role, so I want to be as prepared as possible to give a good performance that accurately shows her personality,” she said. “I also know Frazier will work with me a lot to help me connect with Jadis and bring her to life.”
Like Harvey, Warren is no stranger to the stage, having started in middle school. She says she auditioned for this production because she loves acting.
“I love being in front of a crowd and showing people that I’m much more than the sometimes shy, weird and quiet girl they are used to,” she said.
For Warren also, Jadis was the role she wanted to land.
“I felt that I really could portray the character’s evil and sinister ways,” she said. “Though I did audition for other parts such as Mr. Beaver, I was just hoping to finally have a main role in a production. I was ecstatic when (Frazier) announced that I got the part I was originally hoping for.”
Warren feels that preparation and role perfection begins with memorizing the lines and knowing them well.
“If you know the worlds already it will be easier to change the way you say them,” she said. “I have also practiced my ‘evil laugh’ in my room multiple times.”
Warren plans to “bring the confidence” in her portrayal of the role, and says she knows that Jadis is “very much full of herself.”
“She is very selfish and manipulative, and I think the key behind portraying that is confidence,” she said.
Wolfe is a fan of the fantasy genre, and because of that, he was really excited to audition for the production. He said Aslan was the part he really wanted, as he was drawn to the character’s “very calm and wise character.”
He’s preparing with tons of practice and is brainstorming to get the character just right.
“This character is very unlike any I’ve played before, so it will certainly be a new experience that requires much work and research into how it has been done before and how I myself feel it should be done,” he said.
Woodward also loved the books, and is excited to perform in the stage production. He wanted to audition for three roles: Peter, Tumnus and Aslan. He wanted to play Tumnus, but he’s very pleased to be portraying Aslan. He is hard at work perfecting the commanding voice and deliberate pacing of Aslan’s words, he says.
“I feel I can bring another level of detail and emphasis on every word Aslan says,” he said. “Really bringing another level of passion into the role.”
Having two casts, says Frazier, gives more students the opportunity to perform. But it’s also about quality, says Harvey.
“It gives Frazier more time to work with us during our separate class periods,” she said.
Wolfe adds that it gives each cast some “built-in” understudies.
“But more importantly, it allows for a sense of collaboration where the two classes can talk to each other for ideas, but still end up with two different shows due to everyone putting their own spin on things,” he said.
For all the students, having an active arts program in their school has been a crucial part of their high school experience.
“My most memorable high school moments came from performing in shows and having a good time with my fellow classmates and actors,” said Woodward.
“Honestly, the arts have likely been the most vital thing in the entirety of my high school life,” he said. “They offer a great place for self-expression, and some of the friends I have made there are some of my best. Without the arts at my school, I feel that my life would be very different, but not likely for the better.”
“In part, for me, the arts are a coping mechanism with stresses that come with school and life,” added Harvey. “It’s also a way of being. They provide me with freedom of expression and give me a chance to push myself further and show what I’m capable of and practice important life skills.”
Harvey also says the arts give students a safe place to express themselves freely.
“It also provides great attributes that help students with their other classes. Theater classes improve public speaking, art helps with anatomy and geometry and — at the moment — arts have been helping me with my AP Macro class by encouraging me to question everything. It also gives students a place to actively practice the things they learn in their academic classes. There have been many times when I've implemented math in art or English in theater. Overall, the fine arts help us become well-rounded individuals,” she said.
All four actors play to continue performing in the future. Warren is planning to attend Spelman College, but is also applying to Princeton. Wolfe is looking at Georgia Tech and Emory, while Woodward says he plans to continue acting in college and afterward. Gunter says she plans to attend college and major in Political Science then go on to law school, with an eye on a career in politics.
Harvey has her eye on something very different. She is planning to attend Georgia Southern University and wants to someday perform on Broadway.
“It’s a bit out there, but I’m willing to put in the work to get myself there,” she said.
You can see “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” on Oct. 3 and 10 at 3 p.m.; Oct. 4-6 at 6 p.m.; and on Oct 7 and 9 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Statesboro High School.