Five Theatre Conservatory Students Prepare to Shine in National Play Reading

Tania Thompson
 | Dec 04, 2020
Loaded Rehearsal
Young actors, with their character names, in a Zoom rehearsal for Loaded Language.

About Loaded Language

The Story When a rumor about a school shooter begins to circulate, Kiersa and her friends must decide what they should do to protect their classmates before it is too late.

The play, says director Anna Jennings, portrays the persistent terror and anxiety high school students face in the United States. "The very real threat of a mass shooting shapes their everyday decisions—like where to eat lunch or which classes to take—even without the presence of a gun. Elizabeth Shannon captures these realities authentically."

Elizabeth Shannon (Playwright) is a senior at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Md. She is an actor, an apprentice at the Maryland Ensemble Theater and a member of the Theatre Focus in the Academy for the Fine Arts. Her play What Are Your Hiding?, co-written with Morgan Southwell, was a winner at the Baltimore Center Stage’s Young Playwright’s Festival and a finalist in The Secret Theatre’s Act One: One Act Festival. Her play Smoke has been published through Scripts for Stage and had a Zoom performance with Ensemble, a University of Texas, El Paso, student organization. Her play Nuclear won The Blank Theatre’s 28th Annual Young Playwrights Festival. Her play, To Be Determined, was a part of the Variations on Vision Project and won the Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase. She is grateful to be a part of this program!

Anna Jennings (Director) started at SCR as the Artistic Coordinator in January 2020. Previously, she was the Artistic Manager at Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) in Tucson, Ariz., and recently received her MFA in dramaturgy from the University of Arizona. Her research areas included directing for fringe festivals, experimental dramaturgy and spatial theory in post-dramatic performance. Her directing credits include Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, a site-specific show performed in a local café; Erased, a 10-minute play festival; Death of Arthur, a devised piece based on Arthurian legends, and she was the assistant director for ATC’s production of American Mariachi.

Loaded Language and the #ENOUGH Project

South Coast Repertory has cast five young actors from its Theatre Conservatory to record ​a reading of Loaded Language by Elizabeth Shannon. She’s a high school student in ​Maryland and her short play is one of seven selected from a national search for teen playwrights for the project #ENOUGH. The project gives middle and high school students the opportunity to speak to a national audience about gun violence and promotes playwriting as a tool of self-expression and social change. All of the 10-minute play readings will be produced into a program that will be available to stream free, on-demand, Dec. 14-20.

The Conservatory students have studied acting here for three to 10 years and say the training has been helpful for this produced reading, as well as helping them develop self-confidence and better communication skills.

SCR’s reading is directed by Anna Jennings, the theatre’s artistic coordinator. She and the student cast members of Loaded Language rehearsed and recorded the reading virtually. Read on to meet the cast members.

Katie LeeKatie Lee

The character I portray in Loaded Language is Amira, who is a student at Trojan High School.

My hometown is Irvine.

I’ve studied acting at SCR for six years.

My other acting credits: Snow White (Snow White, SCR Junior Players, 2020), A Christmas Carol (Girl About Town, 2019), The Wizard of Oz (Ensemble, SCR Summer Players, 2019), Harriet the Spy (Janie Gibbs, Junior Players, 2019) and Seussical (Ensemble, Summer Players, 2018), as well as Wizard of Oz (Scarecrow, South Lake Middle School).

What’s great about being a part of this reading is that I get to work with people I have worked with before, as well as people whom I have never worked with. I am really grateful and excited to be a part of this and work towards raising awareness and using our voices to put an end to the issue of gun violence.

This play is important for our times because these situations are very real events that have happened or could happen. Gun violence is an epidemic all across American schools. And in Loaded Language, playwright Elizabeth Shannon, really showed the impact of language and sheds light on different aspects of effects of gun violence that may be overlooked at times.

It has been really interesting to ​do this play reading virtually—​and especially with only a few rehearsals. From the first day, we dove right into the script and it was so fun getting to see it come to life. It was wonderful to work with Anna [Jennings], our director, and she really helped all of us embolden our choices and also helped us to be specific in our purpose and objective. It was also really amazing how Elizabeth, the playwright, was able to give background information and help us to understand our characters. And Olivia [Drury], the assistant director, constantly supported us and provided feedback throughout the rehearsals. We focused on sections of each scene and broke down the lines and even added some movement. ​This process was also wonderful because of the other actors were all ready to work and be supportive, and that made the rehearsals even more fun.

My acting classes at SCR have been helpful in this project because they taught me to be flexible to change. I took everything I learned about body language, volume and tone in acting and just adapted that to fit into Zoom!

Halia LindauerHalia Lindauer

The character I portray in Loaded Language is Kiersa. I found it funny I was cast as her because she’s a lot like me. From the way she thinks to the ways she interacts with others in public, I know exactly how to fit into her shoes. She is the spitting image of teens across the country who fear for their lives and struggle through each school day. Kiersa understands the dangers and the terror that goes along with the presence of guns in a public setting, and always has the thought in her mind that something might go wrong. She is compassionate and always wants what’s best for others because, in her heart, she knows nothing is ever perfect.

My hometown is Tustin.

I’ve studied acting at SCR for three years.

My other acting credits include A Christmas Carol (2019), The Wizard of Oz (SCR Summer Players, 2019), Grease and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Foothills High School).

What’s great about being a part of this reading is that it’s a project that means so much to me. I’m thrilled to be able to use my voice to speak out against gun violence and the dangers it presents. It’s incredible to work with a playwright across the country and be brought together by ideas that we are both passionate about. I feel so strongly about the ideas that are presented in this project and I love working alongside others who feel the same way.

This play is important for our times because it has been such a pressing issue for years. But this play, specifically, is an issue that isn’t spoken about as much. Many times, in the wake of a shooting, there is talk about the event and the aftermath. No one talks about the daily fears of the chance something might happen. This truly is something students have to be able to handle on their own, and it’s not something that many people understand. In the news, we were constantly hearing of another threat or another attack, and now everyone has a level of fear, some higher than others. We’re living in a time where information doesn’t get brushed under the rug anymore. If there is an issue, we are not afraid to speak out against it. Gun violence always had a hard time being taken seriously until the Parkland shooting. I want to help be someone who can lead and show society that this is the life that us teens deal with. These are the true terrors that we encounter every day and there are solutions, if there is the ability to empathize and listen.

It has been really interesting to rehearse and record a play virtually because it allows a new level of creativity and collaboration. It was incredible to have our playwright sit in, from another state, while we rehearsed and experimented with the play. We are able to play with depth and dialogue in ways that we might not have been able to onstage. Despite the electronic barrier, there is still a sense of unison and togetherness. Personally, I believe we all feel each other’s energy even though we are miles away. It genuinely is such a unique experience and I’m honored to be a part of it.

My acting classes at SCR have been helpful and taught me to collaborate and work well with others. They’ve taught me to speak up for myself and to not be afraid of what others think. They have allowed me to be myself inside the theatre and out. So much of life is centered around meeting new people, and from what I’ve learned here, I am able to better communicate well with new people as well as old friends. My confidence has grown, allowing me to be whomever I want without fear of others looking down upon me. Being in the Teen Players class, I have learned to truly embody a character and collaborate with others. We’ve explored dialogue and how to truly be able to mold and shape text through thoughts and experiences. Put simply, SCR has taught me to not only be a better person, but to love myself.

Vincent LoganVincent Logan

The character I portray in Loaded Language is Logan and he’s a jerk, plain and simple! He really doesn’t understand the weight of his words and the severity of the situation. I think he definitely represents a lot of kids I have met and dealt with in my life. He makes many insensitive jokes, but he is actually scared​, too. He is fearful about the possibility of being affected by this​, but uses humor to distract, which is definitely relatable and shows that maybe we shouldn’t do that. It just shows why this conversation is all that much more important.

My hometown is Anaheim.

I’ve studied acting at SCR for three years.

My other acting credits include Snow Angel (Crank, SCR), The Wizard of Oz ((Summer Players) and American Tall Tales (Paul Bunyan, SCR), as well as Beauty and the Beast, My Son Pinocchio and Aladdin (Crescent Elementary School) and I Never Saw Another Butterfly, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (El Rancho Middle School).

What’s great about being a part of this reading is that it’s focused on an issue I’m very passionate about. I feel like I am able to use my voice and actually have it heard, which isn’t something kids my age get the opportunity to do often. Everything these characters talk about are things I feel on a daily basis. It’s scary and I think that hearing the young and most affected talk about these anxieties will inspire many people to actually want to move forward.

This play is important for our times because, well, I’ve always been told that my anxiety and my fears are normal and that it will be okay, that won’t happen to me. That kind of optimism is nice to the ears, but not realistic. No one cares until they’re affected directly. Many people think that the young people my age aren’t able to directly change anything, but our voices are really important. My parents, cousins and uncles don’t know how scary it is to go into school every day. I think constantly about where I’ll hide, what I’ll do, etc. Adults don’t know this point of view until we voice it. I think we’re in a time when people are finally trying to learn more about our world and each other and I feel it’s a perfect time to say, “Hey, this is an issue that we shouldn’t be scared about, but we can do something about it!”

It has been really interesting to rehearse and record a play virtually. I got to know new people and we’re all in this awkward situation and our shared physical disconnect has made it seem almost easier to connect emotionally. Sometimes we’re all muted and we just stare at each other and it can get awkward, but we’re still able to work and try new things. For example, we can work with people across the country and work with new settings. It has been fun to try new things and really push myself. I can’t wait to be back in-person, when it’s safe, but being virtual has its pros… and cons. It’s really dynamic and I think I’ll come out of it more comfortable than I’ve ever been as an actor and person.

My acting classes at SCR have been helpful because I learned that it’s not about me. It’s not about how many lines I have or what character I’m playing. It’s about the ensemble and that has allowed me to really bond with people and with the material in cool ways. I’ve never felt more confident. I also have been forced to become much more comfortable with looking stupid! But, I really don’t care about what other people are thinking. If my director asks me to start yodeling in the middle of a scene, I’ll do it. That kind of attitude was instilled into me because of the challenging exercises in our acting classes and the really comforting community we have at SCR.

Josina MontesJosina Montes

The character I portray in Loaded Language is JJ, the “mom” friend. She likes to hang out with her friends and be normal, but she carries a lot of responsibility. In the very beginning of the second scene, she says she can’t hang out with her friend because she has work. That combined with her mature response to Kiersa tells me that this is a girl with a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. Kiersa is freaking out, Amira doesn’t know what to do, and JJ is the one who steps up and takes charge. She makes a plan for handling the situation and keep everyone calm, and Amira follows her lead. She’s quick to take on this leadership position when the need arises, but she’s still a good friend and a normal teenager who hangs out with friends and knows the latest gossip. She gets scared too, but she balances her emotions with what’s needed and steps up to the role at hand.

My hometown is Highland.

I’ve studied acting at SCR for 10 years.

My other acting credits include The Snow Queen (Ally, California Theater), A Christmas Carol (Girl About Town, 2019), and I dabbled in television and earned a featured role on “Bunk’d” (Disney Channel) and “Blackish” (ABC). Most recently, I was Girl About Town in SCR’s A Christmas Carol.

What’s great about being a part of this reading is that the subject matter of this is so important! Any school shooting is alarming, but we were having them practically on a regular basis. I am homeschooled, but I remember when I dual-enrolled at the local community college during my sophomore year of high school. I hadn’t been on a school campus in years and, although I was excited, one of my fears was a school shooting. The very first day of class, the professor went over the protocols in case there was a shooter. It was a bit of a culture shock for me, going from feeling safe at home to studying in an environment where someone could show up and shoot you. No one should have to experience that, but kids in our nation dealt with that fear every day before schools shut down due to the pandemic. The problem hasn’t gone away just because schools are not open; this reading really works to bring awareness to the issue that’s lingering in the shadows. Our problem has not been solved but, hopefully, this work will raise awareness and show some adults in charge exactly what my generation deals with on a regular basis. All that said, I’m also excited to act again! As you can tell, I believe in the subject matter of the play and that really makes all the difference. It makes the experience richer, and the work more exciting.

This play is important for our times because we live in a time when school shootings ​seem "normal." School is stressful enough, but then to add worry about dying on top of that? It’s something everyone in my generation has experienced at one time or another. Even if some kids, like me, are homeschooled, we still have friends who go to school and deal with this. Any day at school could be the day it happens, and it’s important to raise awareness for the reality of that threat and how it impacts all of us. What I love about our play, Loaded Language, is that the shooting doesn’t actually take place​; the story deals with the ways this threat impacts our mundane lives and causes anxiety, too.

Virtual rehearsals and the recording have been pretty fun! I love acting, but I’m also a massive introvert and enjoy being home. Now I get to act with my scene partners in the comfort of my own home and I love it! Of course, there’re new technological challenges, but we’re all learning and troubleshooting together. It hasn’t taken away from the acting magic too much, either. The first time we read the second scene together, the scene with the shooting scare, I could feel the atmosphere in my room change. Even though we were all in different places, we were all connected in that moment. An energy passed between all of us and it was truly amazing considering this was all virtual.

My acting classes at SCR have been helpful in so many ways! One of my favorite teachers saw something in me and, while he did help me develop my acting skills, he also focused on teaching me to relax and trust my instincts. My current teacher is reinforcing this for me. Some of the most beneficial lessons I learned at SCR include how to just trust my instincts and live in the moment of the scene. There’re a lot of important moments in this reading, and I know SCR definitely has prepared me to handle them

Nick TraftonNick Trafton

The character I portray in Loaded Language is Will. He’s a typical high school joker. He doesn’t realize the severity of his actions, and oftentimes won’t take things as seriously as he should.

My hometown is Lake Forest.

I’ve studied acting at SCR for seven years.

My other acting credits include Metamorphoses (Ceyx/Hades/Eros, SCR Teen Players 2020), The Wizard of OZ (Tin Man, SCR Summer Players 2019), Oliver Twist (Artful Dodger, SCR Teen Players 2019), Into the Woods (Jack, SCR Summer Players 2017), A Christmas Carol (Peter Cratchit, SCR) and Young Tommy in The Who’s Tommy (Chapman University)

What’s great about being a part of this reading is that it was a unique experience. I have done a few Zoom plays before, but never something quite like this. Not to mention the subject matter, which becomes more and more poignant as time passes.

This play is important for our times because, with school shootings unfortunately becoming more and more common, it’s important we pay attention to these trends, bring awareness to why they occur and devote our efforts to stop them from happening.

Rehearsing a play virtually is, and most likely always will be, a weird and uncanny process. But, over time, you kind of get used to it. I’m still able to have meaningful interactions with my fellow actors and delve into the text and my character.

My acting classes at SCR have been helpful for this reading. What I’ve learned allows me not only to know what to look for and how to achieve my goals for the character, but it also has taught to me to let go sometimes. I am an over-thinker and I find it really beneficial for me as an actor to sometimes just let it go—to let the work and the text speak for itself.

In addition, Theatre Conservatory alumna Olivia Drury has a role to play in this reading.

Olivia DruryOlivia Drury

What I’m doing for Loaded Language: I’m the assistant director. I help director Anna Jennings with any technical details of an online reading, such as blocking for blocking entrances and exits, and troubleshooting any audio/video problems. I also get to use some of my experience being in SCR shows, and what I learned by watching Conservatory directors, to chime in and give some feedback or adjustments to the actors. I’m another point person for the actors to come to if they have any questions or concerns. Anna has been really great to allow me and our playwright, Elizabeth Shannon, to contribute our thoughts to the larger question of what the play is about, who these characters are and how we want to tell this story. It was a very collaborative process, which is rare and lovely to experience as a young theatre artist.

My hometown is Laguna Niguel.

I studied at SCR for six years and now I’m a theatre major at Northwestern University in Chicago.

My other theatre credits include various Teen Players and Summer Players shows at SCR, as well as A Christmas Carol. I also did theatre at Orange County School of Arts (south campus at Dana Hills High School).

This play is important for our times because I remember in high school feeling a lot of the same things these characters are feeling: anxious about school safety, angry at the older generation for not taking action, and hopeless that anything will ever change. I think a lot of teenagers will be able to relate to this play. It very much captures what it felt like to be in high school during this time, and, hopefully, this message can be conveyed to older folks who might not know what that feels like.

It has been really interesting to rehearse a play virtually. You might think an online rehearsal process would be robotic and isolating, but it’s actually pretty close what it feels like at an in-person rehearsal! Obviously not the real thing, but I’m very pleased with the environment Anna created. It feels great to be doing theatre again. We log in and our director [Anna Jennings] will stop the actors, give them nots and then we run smaller chunks of the scene until we’ve made it all the way through. Anna has opened it up for me and our playwright to given any feedback we may have. And then the actors run the full scene again.

My acting studies at SCR have been invaluable to me because the Theatre Conservatory made me the person who I am today. Beyond the technical skills of acting, SCR really taught me about empathy and friendship and fostered a real love for storytelling and community. My time at SCR has really proved useful in college. Because of my SCR experience, I am able to conduct myself in a rehearsal room. I also think that kids who go through the Conservatory come out with a really solid work ethic and a real consideration for others, which is invaluable to lots of things beyond theatre.

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