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Lafayette High School theatre students devise pandemic pantomime ‘Cardboard Stories’ play

Playfully stacking boxes with her 5-year-old at home inspired theatre director Amie Kisling to challenge her Lafayette High School students to design a sort of pandemic pantomime performance.

The result was an entertaining nonverbal play called “Cardboard Stories: Thinking outside the Box,” which the group videotaped for online distribution. “You made a piece. You created it from nothing! You made a show that makes me laugh every time,” an exuberant Kisling told the cast during the final rehearsal. “We literally said ‘Build a fort,’ and this whole beautiful story came out of it.”

Lafayette High School theatre students have devised a nonverbal play called “Cardboard Stories: Thinking outside the Box.” (Photo provided by Fayette County Public Schools)

Students auditioned for the after-school project, which featured a nonstop series of mostly comical vignettes – everything from the zombies “Thriller” dance, an automatic car wash, and life-size Whack-A-Mole game to a grumpy jack in the box and a successful organ transplant. The masked teens presented about 20 simple but engaging scenes in the three-act play, held together by three recurring elements: the circus bit, the fort-building bit, and the sanitizing bit.

Yes, the performance incorporated CDC-recommended hand cleaning. “When a certain bell rings three times, they run down to sanitize, including everyone backstage. We tried to have fun within the construct of the crazy,” Kisling said. “We were safely making things work and creating art.”

Seniors Bobby Lowther (SCAPA theatre major) and Lucia Troiano (SCAPA voice), who have worked with Kisling for four years, were enamored with this assignment. “We all collaborated after she gave us a word or idea, so you can see how the groups interpreted. It’s a collection of stories we’ve come up with as an ensemble. It’s challenging not to have a script, but it’s also freeing to take this from the ground up,” said Bobby, one of the actors. Lucia agreed, noting, “You tell the story with your movements. You don’t have your voice or whole face, so it depends more on body language.”

Theatre director Amie Kisling challenged her Lafayette High School students to design a sort of pandemic pantomime performance. (Photo provided)

The show was built on clowning, pantomime, and physical comedy. “Devised” means it was student-created, though some moments were improvised. For instance, with more than 200 boxes of all sizes, the fort at the end looked different after every rehearsal.

“We had two weeks of devising and spent two weeks figuring out the order, what is the journey, where is this going, how did we want to connect all these pieces. It provided a great opportunity to play with the art form of theatre,” Kisling recalled.

Lafayette plans to sell tickets to the YouTube link, aiming to host a “Cardboard Stories” watch party and Q&A with the cast. The group included a dozen actors, a handful of stage crew, and three students providing background and sound effects.

“I’m starting to realize how much I can do as a musician,” Lucia added. “Because you’re in such a supportive environment and everyone is encouraging, it’s not as hard to be creative.” She and her fellow musicians really kept the show moving – swapping around a mandolin, fiddle, electric guitar, ukulele, baby xylophone, and percussion instruments.

After long days of distance learning amid COVID-19 restrictions, watching students stretch their legs and their imaginations was refreshing. “It was really beautiful to see the sense of play,” Kisling said. “The process kind of evolved into what the show is now, and that process is probably more valuable than anything I can teach them in class.”

From Fayette County Public Schools

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