Kratz: ‘Big River’ still relevant today

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kratz: ‘Big River’ still relevant todayMaya Reeves, with Jenny Weik and Sky Feulner in the background, paint scenery for the upcoming production of “Big River.” — Photo by Laura Austin

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“Racism is unfortunately familiar, but it should never be comfortable.”

Director Tristan Kratz, who will lead the Burroughs High School Drama Department’s upcoming production of “Big River,” discussed the motivation for staging the Broadway adaption of Mark Twain’s popular “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” this spring.

The show opens Saturday, April 14, at 7 p.m. in the BHS Parker Performing Arts Center. Subsequent performances will be held April 19, 20 and 21.

“As usual, we’ve taken an artistic spin on this play,” said Kratz, who changed the original setting to align with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

“We did this to avoid the potential misrepresentation that the issues of racism and social inequality Twain presented in 1883 are not so far removed from our own time to seem quaint and nostalgic.”

Kratz recalled growing up reading Twain’s work, and listening to Roger Miller’s music — including “Big River” after it opened on Broadway in 1985.

“This particular musical became one of my favorites. I have waited 33 years to mount this production.”

Kratz noted that she is first and foremost an educator, so selecting the annual musical entails considering the temperaments, skills and educational needs of the potential cast. The available talent pool was also one of the reasons Kratz chose to cast young ladies in both the leading roles.

“Out of all the kids who auditioned, hands down Jenny Weik embodied Huck and Rhiannon O’Conner is Jim — both physically, in characterization and vocally. No one could touch these two.”

She said that by making Huck female, it also provided a common ground between the protagonists in understanding the walls that prohibit easy access to things some take for granted.

Kratz said that after considering the educational needs of her cast, she asks, “Is the play still relevant? Does it have something to say?”

After hearing from her students about the state of current events, she said it became clear that the time for “Big River” had come.

Kratz said that just as when Twain originally published his story, “The issues of race, classism and how we decide as a country to live and practice the ideals and principles set forth out our nation’s inception are being demanded of our citizenry.”

And the issues that drive the story are a reality for her students, she said. They apply the situation of Huck and Jim to other marginalized groups and wonder how we as a society have not progressed further.

“Our kids feel the same way about our current situations after the hope and potential offered during the struggles and achievements made after the civil rights movement.”

She hopes the audience walks away from the experience with “a deeper appreciate of live theater, and especially what the youth in this town are creating and presenting.

“I would like audience members to really see and hear what these students have found pertinent and meaningful to them in this story … and to just fall in love with this play and the music like the kids and I have.”

The cast and crew are dedicating the production to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock Nine, and “everyone who saw an injustice and responded, choosing to give their efforts to making their communities, country and the world a better, kinder more humane place,” said Kratz.

“It has been my privilege to know and provide this platform for these astonishing young people. Their capacity for positive right action is immense. The world looks brighter knowing they will bring their courageous and passionate selves into the mix.”

Doors open for seating at 6:30 p.m. Presale tickets are $10, available at Red Rock Books. Tickets will also be available at the door for $12.

Story First Published: 2018-04-06