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Kelowna high school to stage challenging original production

Students at Rutland Senior Secondary will challenge a play with original material never before seen in Kelowna with their production of Emma Burden. - Jennifer Smith
Students at Rutland Senior Secondary will challenge a play with original material never before seen in Kelowna with their production of Emma Burden.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

There are a lot of "if"s in Rutland Senior Secondary's new play, although the production is shaping up to be anything but iffy.

If it were not for their new teacher, the students might never have seen the play and if it were not for their guts, and clear belief in their ability as a group, they might not have stepped up to the plate to give it a shot. Thankfully, both elements aligned.

Taking on a huge challenge by tackling Emma Burden, an adult-oriented fairytale about a young woman who discovers her future is cursed on the eve of her wedding, the 20-member cast, and their crew, are working with an unknown title that poses some serious theatrical challenges— like climbing a tree on stage.

"I'm really proud of them because it's a play that nobody knows anything about and yet they went for it," said Bonnie Gratz, who is teaching the class and directing the production.

Gratz launched her own theatre company, New Vintage Theatre, in Kelowna last year and is standing in to cover a maternity leave in the school's theatre department. This play was written by her former colleague, Ellen Chorley, and is something Gratz had stored in the back of her mind as a perfect challenge for a high school class with talented actors.

The plot boasts a simple premiss, but plenty of twists and turns as Chorley weaves a somewhat dark tale of two young twins, a brother and sister, who discover their father left the family in order to save them from a curse.

On the eve of her wedding, one of the young twins, Emma, finds a note revealing why her father went away and discovers she too might be doomed should she marry her true love. This launches brother and sister, Will and Emma, into an epic adventure in which they attempt to sort out the curse while encountering a string of characters who either help or hinder their progress.

Gratz left the actually decision making on whether to work on the convoluted tale up to the students, introducing a stack of options to her Advanced Theatre Production class and letting them whittle down the options.

In the end, this play—which she describes as The Princess Bride meets The Hobbit—was stacked up against popular stage choices like Dracula and a funky version of Edward Scissorhands and, much to her surprise, it won out. Even one of the lead's was a bit flabbergasted.

"It actually wasn't one of the ones who wanted to do it," said Sydney Cunningham, who plays Emma.

"It's kind of scary because it's such a large play and I didn't think we would be able to represent it well, but I actually think we've done a really good job," she said.

Her counterpart, Grade 12 student Adam Weaver, said he didn't even really like playing the brother, Will, at first as he's completely the opposite to his own personality, brushing on abrasive with his bravado and lack of interest in the curse.

Will is a knight by trade and the character eventually won the actor over with his desire to be the big, protective older brother. As he works his way through the storyline, Will becomes less of a showboat and starts to be a real asset to his sister's as she tries to weave her way through the maze of family predicament.

While the twins seek out the reason for their family curse, their lives intersect with those of the King, played by Troy Rogers, and Queen, May Lowe, of the magic world of Dartagon. A housekeeper, played by Dana Murphy, tries to help them, as does an Abbott from a nearby Abbey, Ronan Bradford. Audiences watch as the twins tackle encounters with terrible beasts and are shown inside the lives of those who have suffered ugly fates, like Adam Burden, played by Corey Kellerman, and the twins' father Andrew Desjardins.

The play runs at Rutland Senior Secondary school, for two nights only, this Thursday, Nov. 28 and Friday Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, call Rutland Senior Secondary at 250-870-5110 for more information.

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