Theatre Review: “Voices from the High School” at Spotlight

On Saturday night I drove over to the east side of Indy to Beech Grove to meet Jim LaMonte and Jeremy Tuterow at the new, Main Street location of the Spotlight Players for a tour.  It was very exciting!  The new location will open in October. I am going to post about that separately in a few days.

After the tour, I went to the current location in a church basement to see the Spotlight Players’ production of “Voices from the High School.” It was written by Peter Dee and directed by Jeremy Tuterow.  Colton Irwin was the assistant director.  Linnea Tuterow is the stage manager.

If you have read “About the blog” you know that I don’t blog about the high school or middle school productions that I happen to see.  One reason is:  if I write about one school’s production, then I should try to attend and write about several schools’ productions to be fair, and I just don’t have time.  Another reason is:  high school journalists should be covering their school productions as part of their training and their service to their school.

However, “Voices from the High School” is not a high school production.   It is a community theatre production that happens to be about high school students and therefore has a cast made up entirely of high school students or very recent high school graduates.

The cast members come from a variety of schools around Indy, including Mt. Vernon High School, Brownsburg High School, Speedway High School, Perry Meridian High School, Bishop Chatard High School, Southport High School, Beech Grove High School, Lutheran High School, Mooresville High School, Carmel High School, Greenfield Central High School, and Northwest High School. 

The director, Jeremy Tuterow, told me that even though many of these schools are rivals, the actors all get along very well.

I was surprised by how many of the actors I had already seen in other productions around town.  Nick Howery was in “A Few Good Men” in Westfield.  Jeneta StClair was in “Ordinary People” at Spotlight.  Adam Phillips was in “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and “The White Rose,” both at Spotlight.  Linnea Tuterow was in “It’s a Wonderful Life” as well.  Chris Wakefield was in Stageworthy Productions’ “Six Degrees of Separation” and “All My Sons” at the Wayne Township Community Theater.  (I saw that heart-wrenching show twice, before I started this blog.)

I met Kevin Dennis when he was running lights during the Indy Fringe Festival last summer.  I didn’t realize until I saw this show that he was still in high school.

In fact, the professionalism and skill of all of the people in this show would make me think they were older than high school if I hadn’t read the program or talked to the director.  Don’t get me wrong:  I work with teenagers a lot as part of my day job, and I know the good that they are capable of.  It is much more than most adults realize. 

Still, I was impressed.

So what about the show itself?

Well, I agree with the young man sitting near me who told me it was “pretty random” but he liked it.   The structure of “Voices” reminded me a little of some of the young adult verse novels I have read, such as Keesha’s House, by Helen Frost, or Realm of Possibility, by David Levithan.  You hear short passages from several different individuals to give you an idea of the whole, complex, high school experience.  “Voices” mixes monologues that are delivered directly to the audience with scenes that have two or more characters in them and the Fourth Wall firmly in place.

And I agree with another young man sitting near me who told me he admired the acting and the staging of the piece.  The versatile set, which was designed by Jim LaMonte and constructed by LaMonte and director Jeremy Tuterow, consists of three textured but neutral panels placed in such a way as to provide two entrances and several scene locations.  The actors bring on benches or other simple furniture and props as needed.  The scenes are very short.  The fast pace is enhanced and made even more energetic by Molly Bellner’s lighting design and Jeremy Tuterow’s sound design.  Brent Wooldridge is the lighting and sound operator.

I especially loved the sound design, as a matter of fact.  It fits the varying moods of the scenes and it is just fun to listen to.

However, it made me wonder, along with some of the lines in the show, what era we were in.  The actors all wear clothes that you might see in a high school in real life today, but the music is from all over the place, time-wise.

Also, one of the characters calls the pill his friend gave him “dynamite.”  Even though he says it normally, as if he were just using the explosive as a metaphor for something excellent and dangerous, it is a strange choice of words for a teen today.  My mind flashed onto that television star from my own high school days that used to say things were “Di-no-MI-I-I-ITE!”

Another character calls someone a “drip.”  I have never heard a teenager in real life now use that expression, either.

Two of the guys fantasize about Carmen Electra.  Surely guys who are in high school now are fantasizing about celebrities closer to their own age?  Or am I just unaware of the eternal hotness of Carmen Electra?

However, at intermission, when I asked the two guys sitting near me – one a high school student himself and one a year out of high school – if they thought the show was realistic, they both said it was.

So maybe I only heard the datedness in the language because I, too, am dated.  (And it’s okay if I am!)  Maybe the music was chosen simply to fit the varying moods, not to convey a particular time period.  As I say, it does that very well.

The director told me after the show that the script was from the 1980s and that they had done some things to make it less dated.  They changed the Walkmans to iPods, for example. 

In any case, what shines through from the show as a whole is the fact that teens always are dealing with a lot of stuff.

Several of the scenes are especially effective:

Adam Phillips plays a teen who is describing his own suicide attempt.  “I am embarrassed to be telling you about this,” he concludes at the end of his powerful monologue, “but happy that I can.”

Jesse Vetters is hilarious in a monologue about a teen who gets drafted at the last minute to play Santa Claus at the department store where he works.

I was moved to tears by the scene in which Chris Wakefield and Julienne Tuterow mourn the accidental deaths of their characters’ siblings.

Becky Rudolph and Kevin Dennis are funny and cute together as two Valentines.  I knew exactly what Becky’s character was talking about when she said she hated Valentine’s Day…until the right boy did something romantic for her.

Emily Veno cheerfully sings her heart out on the vacuum cleaner, which makes her character’s abusive family situation all the more disturbing.

Megan Taylor and Matthew Skirvin perfectly convey how hard it is to be the new kid.

Kimberly Lynn Steinmetz and Jeneta StClair have a scene in which one character confesses to the other that she is pregnant.  What fascinated and impressed me most about this scene was not the overt drama of the pregnancy but the subtle layers that both actors conveyed about the dynamics of their characters’ friendship.

Nick Howery and Jesse Vetters made me laugh out loud in their exploration of “talking like Bill” (Shakespeare.)

Samantha Borowicz is effective as a girl who quietly accepts John Sharp’s character for himself in a scene that features Sharp as an athlete who unashamedly dons a leotard to take ballet, even when his friends tease him. 

I admired Sharp’s body confidence, but I was touched by another scene in which he and Becky Rudolph are flipping the bird to passing trains.  Sharp’s character tells about the one teacher who made him feel he could do something important with his life.

I think it is Borowicz and Sharp who are a couple arguing about studying and drug use.  I admired that scene, too.

And then there’s the scene…but I want to leave something for you to discover on your own.

I enjoyed “Voices from the High School” as a piece of theatre and as proof that there is hope for the future in the generation coming up.

“Voices” continues at the Spotlight Players’ “old” location in the basement of a church at 75 N. 10th Ave., Beech Grove, through June 29, 2008.  The Spotlight Players’ website has been unavailable for several days, so I am not going to link to it until it comes back up.  In the meantime, please call 317-767-2774 to make a reservation.

Hope Baugh –

11 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Voices from the High School” at Spotlight”

  1. thank you so much for the review :]
    and according to nick and adam carmen electra is very hot. haha

  2. Hah! You’re welcome, Emily. Thank YOU for the show, and for making me laugh with your comment. Break a leg this weekend!

  3. How amazing. I was in the original Indy production of “Voices,” at Civic back in 1984, and the 1985 Phoenix Theatre production of its sequel “…And Stuff.” The playwright Peter Dee became a very dear friend of mine, so I happy to see this play still gets performed. Thanks for the review.

  4. You’re welcome, Guy! Thank YOU for reading my blog and for writing a comment. I am delighted to hear from one of the original Indy cast members. I also didn’t know there had been a sequel. Interesting!

    I’m sorry you had to wait so long for your comment to be posted. I have been having some trouble with my home Internet connection.

  5. I was in this show in my high school, back in 1985. Even then, I felt some words were “dated” or at least wouldn’t be used in our area (Albany, New York). Yes, “dynamite” and “drip,” but also “dungarees,” which one of my characters had to say. There were also phrases which sounded either too poetic to believe an average teenager would casually speak them, or (alternately) sounded like 1970s jive. As an actor, finding the right tone to deliver such lines with conviction was a difficult exercise. I was tempted to change such words and phrases in my dialogue (“my character wouldn’t say that!”), and I probably should’ve – for realism, and because our director probably would’ve been open to such tweaking – but I was still naïve enough to think the script was sacrosanct. (I waited until the final performance and could take it no longer – I said “jeans” instead of dungarees.) Long story short: the script has ALWAYS been out of date, even when it was written! The use of “Carmen Electra” in the production you saw is an obvious directorial tweak – we’d never heard of her in ’85; she wasn’t in the original script. (It may have been Raquel Welch.) And I totally agree with switching the Walkmans to iPods; both devices have headphones, so the crux of the scene is the same.

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