Thespians get expert training

Displaced BHS Drama Department finds creative way to continue program

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Thespians get expert trainingOne of the lesser-known casualties of our July earthquakes is the Burroughs High School Parker Performing Arts Center — which has been temporarily shuttered while structural repairs are completed over the next few months.

Because the building was deemed “nonessential” by the bureaucratic standards that drive the rebuilding process, the repairs on the building were deferred until more pressing repairs to local schools were made.

“I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with something for my kids,” said Tristan Kratz, who teaches the BHS drama program. “Without the PPAC, I thought, ‘My gosh — how are we going to do this?’”

Thanks to a couple of fortuitous past projects from the Burroughs Thespians, Kratz was able to secure a workshop with Barbara Pitts McAdams from the (ironically named) Tectonic Theatre Project.

“There’s an interesting history in all of this,” said Kratz. “I actually contacted them a year ago when we did the Laramie Project.” That show tells of the aftermath in the small Wyoming town where 21-year-old Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered in the 1990s.

Moisés Kaufman and members of Tectonic interviewed residents of Laramie, and those transcripts serve as the dialogue of the play.

When Kratz reached out to Tectonic last year, “They already knew who we were! They said they had been following us since we did the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in 2011.”

Kratz said that Pitts McAdams will train the theater students in “Moment Work” — which she described as a nonlinear, kinesthetically responsive way of doing theater. Ultimately, Kratz said, the students will be creating a piece that deals with the fallout from the earthquakes, similar to the way “Laramie Project” deals with the fallout from Shepherd’s death.

Pitts McAdams spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon with the students, said Kratz.

“I became aware of just how profound her expertise is to where the kids and I are at this moment — no pun intended — and how much we needed what Barbara and Tectonic Theatre Project can teach us,” she said.

“Because of the long theatrical history and tradition of the PPAC being the birthplace and home for theater and performing arts in Ridgecrest, and exclusively for the BHS students and anyone who taught and grew up in the PPAC, it’s more than just a venue and a classroom. It’s part of our consciousness and our DNA as performers and audience members.

“What Barbara has quickly brought to our attention is that the world in which we exist at any given moment has the possibility of becoming an engaging and vital venue for a theatrical moment and experience.”

Kratz said that shifted her focus from dwelling on the displacement to an excitement-filled approach to creating deeper connections within the community.

“Now that I know, definitively, that the PPAC will not be useable this year, we are looking at several different outside-the-box theater presentations,” she said.

One of these deals with converting Burroughs into Hogwarts Academy, giving visitors a live, interactive Harry Potter-inspired experience.

“We are also working with some of our local businesses, including Moe’s Music and Red Rock Books, to bring some readers’ theater into the community,” said Kratz.

“What I love about these kids is that they are so resilient and quick on their feet. This has been a tough year, but they are embracing these opportunities.”

The loss of the PPAC has been a blow to the community, as well. Several local performing arts studios have lost their performance venue, as has the IWV Concert Association, which announced earlier this year that they would not be able to carry out the full season originally promised to ticketholders.

The silver lining, according to Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent David Ostash, is that when the PPAC returns to operations, he hopes it will have a few improvements.

While earthquake recovery funds will cover only the costs of the structural damages caused by the July temblors, the district is seeking ways to fund other needed upgrades to the aging lighting system.

“There are other avenues of funding to explore, some of which offer support to theaters that have been afflicted by natural disasters,” said Kratz.

“And I have to commend our community — people always step up when they know there is a need.”

More information about modified theater opportunities for students, as well as fundraising efforts for the PAC, will be highlighted in future editions of the News Review.

Pictured: Barbara Pitts McAdams gives instruction to the students in Tristan Kratz’ drama class at Burroughs High School. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-12-06