It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening and the Ballinger High School Theater Arts students are rehearsing for the Fall Production this year, “Children of Eden.” Jacob Scott is in his second year as the Theater Arts teacher and production director, “My style is collaborative. Every voice is important. In this day and age, in many educational settings, students can be deprived of their voices. If we deprive them of their voices we’re not preparing them for life after high school.”
The production is a 2-act play revolving around two events in the Old Testament, the Garden of Eden in the first act and then Noah and his family in the second act. This year the play has 35-40 students in the production, a number that is much higher than last year’s production, “Into the Woods, Junior.”
Watching rehearsal it’s clear that Scott practices what he preaches as he listens to each performer sing their part individually, “Tell me what you think about that,” “Explore that with your voice,” “Did you like the way you sounded?” He’s having the performers sing with the curtain closed so that they have to project their voices. The other performers sit in the first row of the auditorium and listen and offer their own input to Scott and whoever is performing. It’s not teasing or making fun; the input is positive, the students tell the performer what they can build on, not about what didn’t work. They all build each other up with open, honest communication that is encouraged by Scott.
Senior Laura Brown performed in the production last year and this year she’s playing a lead role, Eve, “We’ve gotten much better this year, mainly because we have gotten used to Mr. Scott’s directing style.” Scott says that the familiarity is a two-way street, “The students and I have become more familiar with each other and with the space, pretty much everything in general. Last year was an adventure for me. This year the students have become more comfortable with me directing and I’ve come to know their strengths.”
Ethan Gonzales plays the role of God in the production and has been in Theater Arts for 4 years, “This is the first year that we’ve had junior high students in a play under Mr. Scott. This year is well organized.” Gonzales takes his turn singing on stage behind the curtain. Once he finishes, he sticks his head out from behind the curtains to hear Scott’s input, “I want you to add your own individuality to the musical. If I didn’t want that, I could just play the tracks.” Gonzales goes back behind the curtain and sings the song again… and again, each time adding a new dimension to the song that gives it significant depth. In a mere 10 minutes of rehearsing Gonzales completely transformed the song with the encouragement of Scott and the other performers.
The next performer to take the stage is Garrett Zertuche, one of the school’s varsity football players. His voice comes through as if there were no curtain in front of him, the notes serving as audible evidence of his talent.
Emma Cullen is a junior and is in her second year of Theater Arts, “We have a lot more people this year. Last year we made a big impact so this year we have more people that wanted to be part of the production.”
Scott brought in junior high students because they are the future of Theater Arts and will some day be playing the lead roles in the productions. Scott said that many of the junior high students showed up to auditions after seeing last year’s play, “A lot of students showed up to auditions so we had to start assigning roles. We had good energy last year and this year I had to keep that same sort of enthusiasm and energy going. It’s a new year with new challenges, new highs, new lows and adjustments to be made.”
Brown takes the stage behind the drawn curtain and begins singing one of the songs that she’ll perform during the production. Scott stands at the stage with his computer tablet, controlling the music as he listens to every note that each performer sings during their rehearsal. Brown’s voice echoes through the auditorium, even from behind the curtain, the power of the notes escaping the curtain and flowing into the auditorium. She, like Gonzales, seeks input from Scott who encourages her the same as he does all of the performers, “Make the part yours.”
It’s readily apparent, even to a casual observer that Scott doesn’t want to put out some cookie-cutter by-the-script production; he wants to put out something beautiful. It’s a process and Scott wants to students to enjoy the process and togetherness, but moreover, he wants each student to add their own, unique voice, as individuals and as a cast.
Scott also relies on students to help him keep everything moving forward. He has 3 stage managers and the support of the school and parents to help him, “The support from the parents has been incredible. The number of new faces was surprising. I don’t get just the students; I get their parents as well. The parents have been great and I appreciate that they trust me with their kids. The school staff and administration has been amazing. I think it’s one of the best things when you’re at a small school like ours and the teachers, principals and administrators are always asking me if I need anything. It’s amazing because at the end of the day we’re all working together to see that the students get the most out of their experience.”
Scott summed up his philosophy, “We have a good camaraderie and spirit. Ultimately, I want the students to know it’s a group effort, like any team sport. We’re all working towards the same goal; to see each other succeed. At the end of the day, we want to be proud of our production and we want the community to be proud of us.”
The play will be performed on November 22nd at 7 p.m. and November 23rd at 4 p.m. at the Ballinger High School auditorium. Tickets are $5 at the door.