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'Our Country's Good' Begins at Briarcliff HS Tonight

Young actors prepare to transport their audience to 18th century Australia with fall production this weekend.

From Briarcliff High School:

A week of power outages with no heat and no school in the wake of Hurricane Sandy should have caused anxiety for the cast and crew of Briarcliff High School’s fall drama...But, luckily, the guest director Paul Kite—a New York actor and teacher brought in by the school to direct Timberlake Wertenbaker’s award-winning play, Our Country’s Good—has been preparing the students for life without basic amenities since September.

Based on an actual event, the play tells the story of a group of British convicts and their army overlords as they decide to put on a play in an attempt to rehabilitate the prisoners. For most characters the process of putting on a play offers a powerful road to redemption in the most extreme and inhospitable surroundings.

Paul Kite, the director, wanted to make sure that the 21st century high school students fully understood what it meant to be putting on a play in an 18th century wilderness without running water, electricity, or basic food supplies.

“I wanted to push the actors to really go to those hard places their characters live in. Life back then wasn’t as convenient as it is now,” Kite said.

So, on select rehearsal days, the actors hiked into the nearby woods and improvised in the mud and cold of a Briarcliff October.

“Sitting on the ground in the cold, barefoot, and eating pudding with my hands made me realize how lucky we are to have access to basic necessities and utilities,” said Caroline Johnson, a junior who plays a convict, Duckling, in the play. “When we lost power in the storm, I really appreciated the lessons I’ve learned from being in the show.”

Like their real-life counterparts the actors have had to overcome natural and technological challenges to get the play on, including finding alternative spaces to rehearse when school was closed, and tracking down performers when cell phones and emails systems were down.

“One of the themes of the play is that the theatre has the power to redeem us in times of crisis, and although our difficulties are not nearly as challenging as those faced by the characters in the play, the journey of this production will be remembered long after the physical effects of Sandy have been cleaned away,” said Kite. 

The performances will take place in the Frances G. Wills Auditorium at Briarcliff High School on November 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 17 at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 2:30 p.m. All tickets are $15 at www.showtix4u.com or online at briarcliffticketsales@gmail.com.

Learn more about the school's theatre program by viewing this video.

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