Stunning, was a word often used by audience members lucky enough to see the sell-out season of this year’s Senior College production, Parade, says Rector Christine Leighton. “The many emails and comments I received from those who attended this show made me so very proud of our young people, who showed not only enormous talent but also incredible maturity and understanding of the complex themes explained in the story.”
Director and Head of Drama and Dance, Laurence Wiseman, says the challenging and confronting show, chosen for its powerful story, outstanding score and socially relevant themes, tested the limits of the 45 students who brought it to life. “I didn’t realise how big the show was until we got into rehearsals. There were a few nail-biting moments about how the show would be received, but when the students received a standing ovation every night, I knew it had hit its mark. I was blown away once again by the maturity, sensitivity, and quality of the students’ performances which was far beyond their years.”
Parade is the musical retelling of the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man, who in 1913 was wrongly convicted under false testimony, for the murder of Mary Phagan, a child employee at a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia.
When his sentence was reduced from death to life imprisonment by a local governor, an angry mob of wealthy white men kidnapped him from the penitentiary, and lynched him. This single incident saw the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, after 40 years of dormancy.
While unapologetically dealing with confronting themes and material such as anti-Semitism, racial prejudice and oppressed minorities, Laurence says Parade is a story that still needs to be told, and begs the question – how far has humanity really come in over 100 years? “The darkness and bleakness of the show remains thematically relevant today. We had a lot of conversations about the judgements we can all make, and how by having the courage to talk about them and own up to them, we can bring darkness into the light.”
Laurence says right from the time the students started working on the show in January, they were aware they were creating something far greater than the average school production. “The themes we explored, discussed, dissected and debated with cast members, provided a learning opportunity to broaden world views, opinions and perspectives. I am a firm believer that theatre should not simply entertain, but create an experience that moves, challenges, provokes or educates members of an audience or cast. Parade provided this opportunity.”
Rehearsals were in full swing when the terror attack of 15 March occurred, which brought the socially relevant themes of the show into even sharper focus. “Racism, prejudice, oppression, power-majorities, hate speech versus free speech, and the concept of otherness, were themes we had safely explored, somewhat objectively, during rehearsals, but which were suddenly thrust centre stage after the attack. The parallels between the real life drama and our own were not lost on anyone.”
Laurence says the unpredictable circumstances gave rise to many questions, including whether or not to proceed with the production. “Would people want, or need to see the harrowing realities of life played out on stage?”
Head Girl, Juliette Newman, who played a lead role of Lucille Frank, wife of Leo Frank, says when the cast came together for a rehearsal two days after the attack, the atmosphere in the theatre was different. “There was this determination and drive that was infinitely stronger than before. We all had a need to channel our emotions of grief, pain and anger into a constructive medium that can put across a message and make people think. We knew that we had even more of a responsibility to get this show right, and to do justice for all of the people who have been oppressed, in every society worldwide. We hoped that the show would provide inspiration for change, and cast a little bit of light on the darkness that can come in the most difficult of times.”