This show may be watched at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LSk64fMogU
Falls Church High School
Most actors consider playing real people the hardest roles; trying to do someone else's story justice is an immense creative and performance challenge. Oakton High School's "In Their Own Words" put young performers up to this task. Students in the drama class at Oakton HS were charged with interviewing various people in their lives about their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic and transforming their answers into an original, student-written script. "In Their Own Words" was a diverse mosaic of true stories from around the world realized in a documentary short film style.
Segments of interviews were transcribed, verbatim, into dialogue and monologues performed in various scenes. No hesitation, stuttering, filler words, or ramblings were cut; the imperfections of real people's speech was what made up the fabric of the show. Each character in the show was a real person played by an acquaintance of the actor; there were anxious college applicants, a preschool principal, a Hebrew teacher, a grandmother, and so on. Each scene had a theme; athletes were paired together, educators were side-by-side, and students were grouped. The similarities and differences of how each group experienced the pandemic was a highlight of the show; one could relate to every character, while also empathizing with the unique experience of every person.
The actors put on their characters like cardigans, slipping into their mannerisms, motivations, and experiences with ease. Jake Trible played Marybeth, a preschool principal who had to alter her school during the pandemic. Trible was seated in a rocking chair, swaying back and forth while describing how students and teachers were struggling. He paused a lot, his defeat and exacerbation evident. Lindsey Cliff portrayed Cecilia, a high school senior buzzing with anxiousness about the college application process during the pandemic. The fear in her eyes pierced the camera as she reflected on her nightmarish SAT debacle of cancellation after cancellation. Another standout performance came from Madison Shannon as Bert, a senior citizen whose monthly luncheon with friends had been upended. Shannon adopted the vocal inflections and speech patterns of Bert effortlessly, never wavering from her solid commitment to character and doing her interviewee justice. The portrayal of each person never involved mockery or stereotyping, the beauty of "In Their Own Words" came from its authentic and candid performance without exaggeration or ridicule.
The cinematography and editing of the show were all student done; it was minimalist but effective. Every camera angle and cut were done with precision and thoughtfulness to always accentuate and prioritize the storytelling and narrative of the show. Steven Labovitch and Elliott Frank filmed the scenes; they included pauses and silence throughout the show, advancing a continuous thematic and aesthetic vision.
It was clear that each performer had given copious amounts of time and effort to dig deep into their role, familiarizing themselves with and contextualizing the experiences of their character within the show. The student technical work elevated these efforts through seamless camera and editing finishes. "In Their Own Words" will surely not be the last show to portray the experiences of people during the Covid-19 pandemic; but if it is any indication of the thoughtfulness and quality of such shows to come, there is no doubt that theatre will return as strong as ever, resonating with audiences and reflecting the human experience.
McLean High School
From one face to another, from one story to the next, Oakton High School's "In Their Own Words" presented a unique and detailed collection of interviews regarding people's experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In Their Own Words" originally began as a theatre project for the Drama 3 and 4 students in Oakton High School's Theatre department. For their "Verbatim Theatre" unit, the students set out to interview friends and family about their thoughts and feelings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective of this assignment was to transcribe the interviews into monologues and perform them "verbatim," encapsulating the interviewee's exact mannerisms, tones, and expressions. Entirely student-made, the students utilized their theatre skills to bring this fascinating documentation of people's different views to life.
As a monologue-heavy production, script adaptors Abby Cortez, Carson Cullen, Vicky Coleman, Sarah Janson, and Lindsey Dann had the important task of taking the cast's transcriptions and weaving them together. The group diligently organized the order of the monologues, deciding that some should stand alone in a scene, while others should be paired together, allowing for fluidity and avoiding repetition.
With the intriguing assignment to present people and their stories as realistically as possible, the ways in which the students achieved this goal were especially noteworthy. The um's, uh's, and y'know's heard so often in daily life were included in the transcriptions, giving a new layer of depth to each character. Though we don't know the people represented personally, it was easy to understand and get to know their personalities and struggles through the actors' physical work and distinct articulation.
Ranging from high schoolers to elderly residents, the students portrayed a variety of different people with a broad scope of perspectives. One example of such a range was Ian Matthews' performance of Rita, a grandmother. Matthews depicted Rita by closely observing her slang and inflection. As this piece focused on faithfully characterizing each individual, Matthews presented her in a genuine, non-exaggerated manner. Along with her work as a script adaptor, Abby Cortez demonstrated her unique ability to discern even the smallest details in a person's behavior through her portrayal of Mrs. T, a high school English teacher. From hand gestures to quiet pauses, Cortez relayed her character's struggles with her father's doctor appointments with careful consideration towards physicality and tone. Another instance of such detail was that of Jonathan Geerdes' depiction of Madison, a musical theatre student. Whether it was smiling after a sentence or habitually rubbing his nose, Geerdes disappeared into his role as he presented his character's personality and mannerisms with charm and exactness.
As a production dedicated to precision, the same attention to detail was reflected in the making of the play. Filmed by Steven Labovitch and Elliott Frank, the cinematography beautifully illustrated each subject of the scenes with engaging composition and varying angles. Along with filming, Labovitch worked on the editing, carefully piecing together the vast amount of clips into the final product. Accompanying these technical elements was the careful consideration in costume choice. From college sweatshirts to Baskin-Robbins uniforms, each outfit added a new dimension to the characters.
Through their compelling piece, the students of Oakton High School allowed for people of all ages, occupations, and backgrounds a chance to voice their individual thoughts, struggles, and perseverance "In Their Own Words."