Creating ‘Bernays Academy’
Not all high school plays require a fundraising campaign, but Yampah Mountain High School’s “Bernays Academy” won’t be your average student theater production.
Written specifically for the space and students by former actress and casting director Kether Axelrod, it may be the first immersive theater project of its kind in the state.
“Glenwood Springs has never seen anything like this,” Axelrod said.
Planned for several weekends in June, “Bernays Academy” will be an interactive experience utilizing almost every room in the school, and will include elements of music, dance, 3D effects, multi-media computer and video features, mystery rooms, improv, original poetry and art work, and even food and drink.
It comes at an estimated cost of $5,500, which the program hopes to raise now through Feb. 11 on Kickstarter. Donors not only have a chance to nab early tickets, but are also eligible for perks and even involvement in the show.
Other area thespians, both students and adults, are already slated to bring an Orwellian boarding school — named for propagandist Edward Bernays — to life. Think of it as a cross between a play and a haunted house.
“I’m not sure they completely understand the level to which I’m going to transform their school,” Axelrod said.
The idea has, in fact, been in the back of her head since well before she joined the team at Yampah.
“I don’t enjoy doing “Annie” and “Oliver” and “The Sound of Music.” My own personal taste is a lot darker than that,” she said. “I really wanted to write this piece of dystopian fiction that would be about the emergence from sleep.”
Unlike some immersive theater projects, “Bernays Academy” doesn’t entirely dispense with a narrative structure. Those who show up for the Academy’s fictional open house will be sorted into three groups, each of which will have a different experience.
“It starts out really simply as a tour. It breaks down from there. By the end of the second act, the entire concept of three groups dissolves,” Axelrod said. “It’s been a really challenging writing exercise, because you’re trying to do a lot of different things at once. There’s often as many as six different things going on simultaneously.”
Attendees are encouraged to come in groups so they can split up and compare notes later. Like a three-ring circus, you can even come back another night for an almost entirely different experience. While it’s probably not appropriate for young children, introverts need not fear the interactivity.
“Nobody has to do anything except observe if they don’t want to,” Axelrod said.
Preparation is already under way with hopes of a successful campaign, and the kids are excited.
“I’m so in love with this production,” said Kerry Byars. “I could graduate early, but I’m staying for the play. It’s a whole concept of theater I didn’t know existed.”
Laura Myers says the production will be a chance for Yampah students to see that they’re more than how society perceives them.
“I want people to come here and see that Yampah isn’t what people think it is,” she said. “When you come here, there’s no expectation. You can be whatever you want to be.”
As far as Axelrod is concerned, Yampah is the ideal venue for such a venture.
“These kids who get marginalized are the kids who are profoundly creative,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”
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