As you settle into your evening routine Friday, have a thought for 20 young box canyon thespians.
Telluride is a small town. Even so, some of these students, between grades 7 and 12, are likely never to have met before today.
The one person they have in common — their teacher, Telluride Middle-High School Theatre Arts Director Angela Watkins — barely knows some of them either.
Whatever they all think of one other — and how little they know about each other — they will soon learn a lot more (their teacher has described what they’re embarking upon as “outrageous fun,” “scary,” “exciting,” and “crazy”).
Over the next 48 hours, these students and Watkins will eat, sleep and breathe “theater” ina theater, residing in the Palm for two days straight to bring to life what Watkins calls “A Play In 48.” The immersive weekend will end with a public performance of “The Redemption of Gertie Greene,” a dramedy by Taryn Temple, in the Palm Sunday evening at 5 p.m.
“Gertie Greene” is about a middle-school student who is rumored to be “a freak, strange, stupid, clumsy and mean.” But is she really? That’s the question at the heart of the script, and it’s up to a group of Gertie’s peers (theater students, as it happens) to ferret out the truth.
“The play has a wonderful message,” Watkins said, “about bullying and kids who’ve been labeled even though nobody really knows their story. Something we’ve been talking about school-wide is the importance of really knowing students and their stories. This was a great way to highlight what goes on, no matter how hard we try. People are not always the way they appear. People are worthy of redemption.”
The audience that sees this play Sunday is also worthy of entertaining storytelling, which “Gertie” delivers. As Theatre Folk, the company that published the script, puts it on its website: “Plays about bullying can leave a sour aftertaste, especially if the message has the bully stand up and accept the error of their ways. It just doesn’t happen that way in real life…That’s why this play presents a refreshing change. It opens the door to conversation, which is what all ‘issues’ plays should do. It’s not about solving the issue in 30 minutes. It’s about prompting the conversation to continue after the curtain goes down.”
This is the sixth year that Watkins has staged “A Play in 48.”
“We make our meals together, we eat together. It’s a great chance to nurture the feeling of an ensemble,” she said. “The idea of being in the ‘nursery’ of the theater and spending time together helps us to work as a family. It promotes cohesion, and gets the kids revved up for this season. Next week is rehearsals for ‘Matilda,’ which everyone is excited about.”
Watkins, who directs a Shakespeare play for middle-school students each year, has never shied away from tough topics, even tragedy, onstage. The weekend is likely to bring a few tough conversations off stage as well, as students bring their personal experiences to the script. At the same time, they’ll also be working on everything from props and sets to lighting and costumes together.
“The idea of being under pressure is a great way to ignite creativity,” Watkins observed. “The kids’ desire to do this, and the risk factor of having to throw it all together, as well as the mystery of sleeping on the black stage of the Palm…we’re breathing it, eating it, the whole thing. We’re all in this to make it happen. I think we’ll all really know each other a lot better by the time it comes together Sunday night because of the fast pace. That’s what’s exciting. It’s a great way to connect.”
It’s also a great way to challenge and change lives, which is the theme of the play.
“The Redemption of Gertie Greene” will be performed Sunday at 5 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $5 at the door. For more information, call the Palm Theatre at 970-369-5669.