Westerville South’s Theater Club Gets Distracted

Gwen Busch

Westerville South’s theatre season opened Sept. 5 with the black box production of “Distracted”; the play raised awareness about mental illness and the struggles of individuals impacted by its experience in society.

“Distracted” is about a nine-year-old named Jesse who struggles to sit still and focus. It is soon realized that Jesse has ADD, for which he is prescribed a pill to take every day. But, his mother, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, strives to answer if her son is really ADD or if the world just does not understand the issue yet.

“Distracted” is the 5th black box show that South has ever performed. According to Matthew Wolfe, Westerville South’s theatre director and teacher, the black box shows are normally cast with more enthusiastic or older students. The cast was chosen at the end of last school year and given their script to study over the summer. This allows the cast to grow into their character and really nail their strengths and weaknesses, according to Wolfe.

Black box shows can be more difficult and stressful on the actors, Wolfe explained because they are more interactive in regards to the cast and audience.

Senior Actor Latifa Sulaimon, who played Mrs. Holly, a nurse, and Dr. Waller said, “Black box gives you a scary feeling that everyone can see if you mess up.”

Senior actor Josiah Holloway, who played the dad in “Distracted”, agreed with Sulaimon but added that the engagement of the audience can be the most pressuring, like if a funny scene comes up and the audience does not laugh then the cast can become stressed and awkward.

On the contrary, Senior actor Izzy Brinker, who played Jesse’s mom, said, “Smaller crews allow you to get to know others more personally, and black box shows are more of an educational show.”

Wolfe said the challenge of a black box show gives students a chance to push forward and learn more as an actor.
Main actors, including Muhad Yusuf, Kandy Boakye, Izzy Brinker, and Sulaimon, feared the topic of mental illness might be a sensitive topic and difficult for them to connect with to create a strong, believable character. However, Wolfe was not worried, but rather surprised once the students came back from summer vacation.

“What shocked me was the conversation that started. The cast shared stories about themselves or family members,” Wolfe said.

Learning more about the complex feelings others have towards the topic of mental illness helped relieve any misgivings students may have initially had over the topic.

South’s actors, in figuring out their complex characters, genuinely learned more about mental illness and how difficult these illnesses can be for both the individual and their family members.

The tech crew for a black box show also has a few extra challenges or hurdles to overcome with this style of theatre. Senior Tech leader Olivia Layson, the sound director for theatre, said that like the actors, the tech crew also gets stressed over the closeness of the audience.

Layson said, with the audience so close, it provides an issue for the lighting crew in spotlighting the actors and not the audience. In addition, the audience can see props closer and with more detail. Layson emphasized the importance of props and background because the point of black box shows is for the audience to feel as though they are there within the play.

Overall, “Distracted” was a great start for South’s 2019 theatre season. The theatre department will also be performing Freaky Friday, Jungle book, Scho show, and Nine to Five.