Morrisette said that in Black Box productions the floors, ceiling and walls are typically painted black, with no set. “The mood is created with lighting, and all the focus is on the actors and their acting,” Morrissette said. While they do use costumes and props, those are secondary, not the primary focus, she added. Black Box theater typically has seating for 100 or fewer people, and the chairs are always movable to create any configuration desired, creating a close, intimate, actor-to-audience relationship. In fact, as in one of their one-acts, the audience is sometimes brought into the performance, said Morrissette.
This style of theater is difficult for anyone to do, Morrissette said, because of the heavy reliance on every nuance of the actor, from facial expression to tone. “There’s no way you can distract the audience from their acting, so it puts a lot of pressure on the actor.” She said she wanted to try it with teenagers because they are often able to let loose more than adults. “They’re old enough to be comfortable with themselves, but young enough to still be uninhibited,” she said.
The teens involved are enjoying the challenge, and getting a lot out of the experience. Sandy Rush, a student at Bonny Eagle High School, said, it’s different from the plays they are used to being in, and the style has expanded their knowledge. “Since Black Box is such a different kind, we’ve learned a lot from it,” she said.
Johanna Stanley, a Windham High School student, added, “It’s challenging, because it really is all on us instead of some immaculate set.”
Aside from Morrissette and assistant director Josh Arris, there are no adults involved in the production. The teens are on stage, and they also make up the production committee. “They’ve got us doing everything,” said Will Wheaton, a Windham Middle School student.
Morrissette said an adult production committee usually handles things like costume design, hair and makeup, publicity and advertising, programs, props and concessions. “All the adult jobs that normally go to the board members have gone to the kids, and they’re doing them as well as the adults do,” she said.
Doing the behind the scenes work as well as being onstage brings a sense of accomplishment, the teens agreed. Meagan Jones, also a student at Windham High, said, “Overall, we’re becoming better actors, and having fun with it.”
“I love it,” said Wheaton. “I think it makes you feel more important instead of just showing up and having everything done for you. It gives you more emotional involvement with it.”
Stanley agreed. “It definitely gives us a sense of responsibility in the show that we don’t usually have.”
Windham High School student Kyah Morrissette said that her mom has done publicity for other shows. This time, that was one of her responsibilities. “I feel like I’ve got a solid handle on it now, which is cool,” she said.
Black Box has been a welcome challenge for the teen participants. “I think one of the most difficult things for me was, because it is such a different style than what we’re all used to, learning how to do it,” said Rush.
Stanley added, “A lot of it is learning how to be actually funny and not just stupid funny, because then that’s not really funny.”
Rush agreed. “It makes the humor real. It has to be real,” she said.
Francine added that actors must learn the lines so well that these words become what the person is actually saying, rather than lines in a play. “A lot of these guys have kind of grown up in theater. They’ve learned their entrances and exits, and their lines and line delivery. What they haven’t learned is to become the character. I see some of them have had a real challenge with that and they’ve really faced that challenge, and really overcome that challenge. Some of the lines they deliver now, you don’t hear them as lines.”
The Blackbox Teens currently has nine members from various schools throughout the region. They come from Windham Middle and High Schools, Bonny Eagle, Gorham High School, Gray/New Gloucester Middle School, and homeschooling in Falmouth. Members of the cast have been involved in theater for varying amounts of time, from a year to almost 11 years.
When the concept for the group was first beginning, Kyah spearheaded the campaign to generate interest, sending out a mass email to as many theater kids as she could think of, and reposting the event on Facebook regularly.
Francine said that everyone who showed up for auditions was given a part of some kind, onstage or technical. For their debut production, they chose two shows that had a vast number of parts, so that the shows could accommodate any size cast. Many of the students are playing multiple roles.
The group will open the show, which includes How to Succeed in High School without Really Trying; Check, Please; and a musical intermission, on June 7. The production will run from June 7th through the 9th, and June 14th and 15th. All shows start at 7 p.m. except for June 9, which is at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10. To purchase tickets, call 642-3743 or visit www.schoolhousearts.org.
The Blackbox Teens intend to put on three or four shows per year, in a wide variety of styles. Anyone aged 14-20 who would like to get involved can contact Francine at firstname.lastname@example.org.