This weekend, Scarsdale High School Drama Club will mount two contemporary one acts captained by young thespians turned directors — “Property Rites,” directed by Drama Club president Matthew Kutzin and “Show and Spell,” directed by VP Jamie Robelen.
The latter is an exaggerated comedy by Julia Brownell that follows five middle schoolers volleying for the title of spelling bee champion. Backed by families who show their love in sometimes questionable ways, the young hopefuls tackle words and pressures of gargantuan proportions.
SHS junior Julia White plays 13-year-old Imagine Pearson, who’s high strung and riddled with anxiety about the bee, schoolwork and everything else.
“Her life is just one big ball of stress, and I find myself sometimes feeling that way,” White said. “It’s easy to tap into that stressed, anxious part of me because school life is often anxious and stressful.”
Imagine’s mother, film luminary Star Pearson (played by SHS senior Lily Foley) offers her daughter little support. Foley, 17, spoke in character about playing Star. “I’m very obnoxious, very overdramatic, which is I guess where [Imagine] gets it from,” she said. “I have a lot better things I could be doing ... but I have to sit around and listen to [Imagine] complain about her spelling bee, which I really don’t care about.”
Standing in the gap between the two is Star’s assistant Debra, played by SHS junior Margaret Kantor, who is also the show’s costume coordinator.
Sixteen-year-old Sam Lippmann is the competition’s standard overachiever, David Lichtensteinberger. His character is a recluse whose days consist of holing up in his room and poring over his dictionary.
“[David’s] parents want him to be more of a normal kid — going outside, having fun. But he just wants to sit in his room in the dark and study forever, which is kind of interesting,” Lippmann, a sophomore, said. “Sometimes you think it would be the parent forcing it on the kid.”
The play marks Robelen’s directorial debut, though she’s been acting since she was in elementary school.
“It was just an opportunity that seemed really cool,” said the SHS senior. “I have total control over this show, which I knew [would happen], but actually exercising your power ... it’s pretty cool to see your vision up on stage.”
Still, managing Robelen’s peers is a challenge, especially directing her real-life sister, 15-year-old SHS sophomore Ali Robelen.
The second play, “Property Rites,” is a sci/fi drama starring SHS junior Liam Cochrane as Kyle Macmanus, an inventor whose machine figurines come alive from a technical glitch.
Kutzin, 17, said he chose the play because “it was just different,” adding many shows intended for high school audiences “all feel the same to me.” “Property Rites” fuses genres and offers “great comedic moments,” Kutzin said. “I [didn’t] want to direct anything else.”
Fifteen-year-old Simran Ruta, a sophomore, agreed the show pushes boundaries.
“When people think of drama, they think... sad,” she said. “I wouldn’t say this show is sad. It’s just very provocative, [posing] the question, ‘At what point does artificial intelligence have rights?’”
Ruta plays Figure 8, one of the formerly inanimate figurines. In order to move in unison as the machine, the actors completed many group exercises focused on kinesthetic response — dancing, posing, sitting down, standing up.
“Sometimes it gets really frustrating when we can’t all stay in sync because some people are going too fast or too slow, and there’s no median really because no one is setting the tempo for anything. We just have to feel the energy,” Ruta said.
SHS junior Spencer Martin, who plays Figure 4, echoed Ruta’s sentiments. “We have people on opposite sides of the stage,” he said. “There’s no way they can see or even hear each other, and there’s sometimes a little bit of lag time. If one person on one side of the stage is doing something, the opposite side of the stage may not find out for a few seconds.”
Sixteen-year-old Melissa Cohen, a junior, said the cast often joked on set about other dystopian A.I. stories — “Don’t compare us to iRobot.”
Performances of “Property Rites” and “Show and Spell” are Jan. 18 and 19, 7:30 p.m., at 1057 Post Road in the Scarsdale High School auditorium. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and seniors; available at propertyritesshowandspell.eventbrite.com or at the door (service fee applies online).