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Students revisiting 'Our Town'

Alyssa Scott and Zach Brokmeier take the leading roles in the West Fargo High School production of "Our Town" to be presented November 18-20 at 7:30 p.m. and the 21st at 2:30 p.m. Dave Wallis/The Forum

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prizewinning classic "Our Town" will be presented by the West Fargo High School Drama Department in special performances this weekend at the West Fargo High School Theatre, located at 801 9th St. E. Show dates and times are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, November 18, 19, and 20 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 21 at 2:30 p.m.

Theatre/Language Arts Instructor Adam Pankow is directing the production, supported by a cast and crew of approximately 60 students, serving in a variety of positions.

Set in Grovers Corner, N.H., "Our Town" explores life's moments, both big and small, through the daily routines of the community's honest, hard-working residents. Wilder's masterful tale has taken generations of theatergoers by surprise with its charm, simplicity, unexpected humor, imaginative style, evocative moving themes, and engaging storytelling.

Pankow said this production is different from others he is used to directing - musical, comedy and children's theater - likewise it is different from what the students are used to participating in. "I chose to direct "Our Town" because it posed some interesting challenges to me professionally, but more so, I chose it because I wanted my students to experience something new in their young performing and technical careers too. I wasn't sure what the students were going to think of the choice to include "Our Town" in our season, but I felt as if the students were ready to try something new. We had over 60 individuals audition for the fall production, which is the biggest turnout for shows in this timeslot in the past five years.  I knew a handful of the auditioners were eager to participate in theatre, but didn't consider themselves a singer, thus never auditioned for any of our musical productions at school.  Involving that additional population of talented students was an outcome I hadn't considered when I initially chose this show.  My overall intention was to give students and audiences a chance to explore a different type of theatre and to stylistically find a balance to this season's other main offering, the musical "Hairspray."

Toward achieving that end, Pankow said the "show has been challenging to bring to life. The students and I have worked very hard by staying true to the classic characters and situations that the playwright, Thornton Wilder, created."

Pankow said that when he re-read the show he found the classic play "surprisingly current. "Our Town" is about ordinary people living at the turn of the century, but underneath the text there are themes and ideas which transcend time and are much larger than the citizens of tiny Grovers Corner.  The idea of marriage as a want of any two people to combat a life of loneliness is very much a "today" issue.  The more predominant theme of living, but not taking in every moment or making any real connections is also current in this era of blackberries, instant messaging and Facebook. 

Consequently, the production has been 'reimagined' for the WFHS theatre presentations with the use of 21st century design and technology juxtaposed with the timeless dialogue and situations.

Pankow explained. "Our production doesn't 'tweet' or text dialogue or give the characters modern technologies and conveniences to use instead of what is scripted.  Rather, it visually updates the production with the use of video projections and modern costuming.  Not a single line of the text has been changed, but the visual experience has taken the still-relevant 20th century ideas and juxtaposed them into 21st century conventions.  Our ultimate goal in doing all this was to further establish the timelessness and relevancy of this piece that was originally written and performed in 1938.

Pankow praises the entire cast and crew in their efforts to make this all work. "There is a lot to commend all the cast members for, but the group of seniors who are taking part in this production are particularly noteworthy in their participation.  I have really appreciated many of them as they lead others in the cast to higher levels of performance.  Alex Kuchta, as the stage manager, has a ridiculous amount of lines to memorize.  He's been doing an excellent job with this overwhelming task, as have Alyssa Scott who is playing Emily and Zack Brockmeier who is George. All three actors have been finding such nuance and meaning in their lines by taking these characters and really making them their own."

"While they don't have as many lines as other characters, Sarah Arnold and Abbey Immer, who play Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, are faced with a great challenge in having to navigate through a large amount of pantomime in their action. Both Sarah and Abbey have been very engaging to watch as they figure out how tall counter heights are or where door handles are as they mime. All other characters in the play pantomime their props (as suggested in the original text), but these two young actresses have taken the lead in perfecting the art and guiding others in using it effectively as well."

Pankow said "the quality of the storytelling in the show is incredibly strong and has a lot to say about individual roles in the context of a larger system of existence (i.e. a family, workplace, community or nation).  Last year's humbling outpouring of support as WFHS Theatre parents and students successfully raised $30,000 to overhaul our sound system in time for opening night of the musical showed how supportive this community is of the arts in our schools. "Our Town" represents the same spirit of community and societal values that makes our own town so great. For that fact alone, I know audiences will enjoy seeing a sliver of something so familiar play out on the WFHS stage."

Ticket price is $8 for adults and $5 for students.  All seats are general admission and available at the door one hour before performances.