A full two weeks before the opening of WCA’s Spring Drama Production, ‘Finding Franklin‘, many elements– from cast knowledge of the script, to prop construction, to technical set-up — were still a long way from a finished production. So much so that it looked to the untrained eye that there was slim chance that the play would be able to be smoothly and effectively performed without a significant uptick in practice time and marathon weekend sessions, which were both impractical. But as we have learned countless times before, with God all things are possible. It also doesn’t hurt to have veteran drama director Cathy Naylor at the helm.
Even in the student performance, things were a little rocky, with nerves present in some of the more challenging segments. But in the Dinner Theater and Matinee performances, all elements of the production seemed to pull together incredibly as the entire cast and crew executed nearly flawless performances for school drama productions, nevermind one with a cast of primarily lower school students.
‘Finding Franklin’ was the product of WCA’s unique student-led production process. The skeleton concept of storyline and music are provided using materials from the Fingerprint Productions Drama and Language Arts program conceived and developed by Cathy herself. Naylor has utilized this program to unroll strong youth drama teams everywhere she has taught. The crux of the program is the use of improvisational story and script development that suit the personalities and talents of the students involved in the production, springing forth from 2 or 3 primary musical compositions. This method, of course, differs substantially from the standard drama production method of buying a pre-written script and musical segments and fitting the available performers into the storyline. Instead, students develop their character personalities, habits, idiosyncrasies and most of all, lines and the way in which those lines are delivered, giving them far more substantial ownership over the final product.
The development process is fantastic, but when the process is over, the production becomes one where the cast must rehearse over and over again and memorize lines, and additional parts and extras added to the mix to round out the cast of ‘Finding Franklin’. In addition to the primary cast of shrunken inadvertent time travelers (Lola Geoffroy, Hayden Zima, Janae Palmer, Briana Pearson, Laurel Bray, Kayleigh Breslin and Madison DeRose), the cast included upper school junior Zane Eckols as the central character Henri Chevalier, a time-traveling Frenchman (complete with thick accent) as their guide on a trip through History in order to start finding Franklin, Benjamin Franklin in the Revolutionary War period that is. The primary characters, who have been accidentally reduced from teachers and students to children by Henri’s temperamental time machine, find themselves engaged on a journey back through time. The trip involves stops along the way to view Ben as a youth (Jackson East) in scene where he demonstrates his young ingenuity with his friends (Connor Richey and Alexander Oncu), and Ben as a Young Apprentice (Tyson East) under the harsh tutelage of his brother James (Connor Sullivan) while receiving encouragement from his friend (Adeline Ogaard). The time travelers also pay a visit to Deborah Franklin (WCA friend Jenna Kircher), who explains how she and Ben met and fell in love, as well as their early life together (depicted in a silhouette scene by Harrison Zima and Rebekah Kish).
Henri and the time travelers eventually find themselves in 1776 in front of Ben Franklin himself (played by staff member Jeff Sullivan), who shares wisdom regarding some of his inventions, and solicits the young students’ assistance in editing the Declaration of Independence, a task he agreed to on the urging of Thomas Jefferson. With their mission complete, the students return to 2018 while seeing history unfurl before their eyes in a number of film vignettes, but not before the time machine stalls in the year 1853. They meet a young boy Tommy (stunningly played by 3rd grader Aiden Jobe) who exclaims that Ben Franklin is his hero and sings of how he will be just like him someday. On being called to dinner, Tommy reveals that his last name is none other than Edison.
Upon returning to 2018, Henri restores the time travelers to their older selves (played by various teachers and upper school students), who find that almost no time has actually passed, and they are summoned back to class by their teacher. Their debate team leader, however, (teacher Tonya Williams), forgets her glasses by the time machine. When she returns to retrieve them and questions Henri regarding his presence in the school and the monstrous contraption, he accidentally activates it, which shrinks both he and the teacher into 1st-grade versions of themselves in a hilarious conclusion to the play.
In addition to the substantial number of casted parts in the play, was the amount of technical and sound effort that went into the production, from spotlighting to soundtrack, and getting the correct amount of light required backstage to pull off the challenging scrim scene featuring Ben and Deborah as they fall in love. All were seamlessly and expertly handled by the technical director (and Director of Fine Arts) Chelsea Meisinger and the Stage Manager, senior student Evan Henley, together with their team of Laura Reese, Carson Henley and Landis Buckley. The set pieces were also amazing, and were the work of Art Teacher Linda Guntharp and Leisa Eckols among others.
The cast and crew would like to thank all who came out for both the dinner theater and matinee shows and especially to Mrs. Naylor, who invested countless hours piecing together the various parts into an incredible end product. ‘Finding Franklin’ was a true blessing for all who watched, acted and chipped in. Bravo!