The playhouse is dark, but in the darkness, ghosts of the vibrant colors swirl around the audience, a lingering sense of suspended hope. When the lights come back on, the audience is on their feet, some clutching tissues, tears glistening on the edges of their eyes. In our minds, we can still feel the pulse of the choreography and see the grand and epic worlds painted with an imagination bestowed upon us by 12 incredibly talented students and a crew of skilled production and design students. And walking out of the playhouse, we truly felt that we had been on “The Yellow Boat” with Benjamin all along.
Chosen to portray the values and vision of California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley (CSArts-SGV), David Saar’s “The Yellow Boat” tells a deeply moving and true story of a young visual artist trying to regain his voice through art as he faces a battle against terminal illness.
A small group of 12 students was selected from a pool of over 100 seventh to eleventh grade student actors to take on the challenge of conveying the impactful message to the audience through their art in this inaugural performance, pushing their limits as they learned the power of goal setting, collaboration, empathy, and effective communication.
“The most important thing others and I will take away from this experience is the bond,” freshman cast member Jessie Franks said. “We got to grow into our talents and came to realize that everybody is here for a reason.”
Integrating students from three different conservatories, every student was truly able to bring their skills and voices to the table. Though the set was designed by a professional designer, members of the Production and Design Conservatory had the opportunity to create the set with the help of their conservatory teacher, Ms. Kimberly Mitchell.
Partnering with an emerging theater, the Sierra Madre Playhouse, students juggled and worked around the challenges of working in a space away from school late into the night after long days of rigorous academic courses and conservatory classes.
While Benjamin (Sullivan Braun-Slavin) was the main character who suffered from hemophilia and AIDs, the production did not define him by his illness. It defined him by his creativity, the art that he was able to show to his friends, his nurses, and his parents. It defined him by the colors he was able to paint on sterile white hospital walls and the world he was able to bring. It defined him by the impact he left on all the nurses and doctors, and the hope he brought with his story. It defined him less by an illness and more by what he was able to do and communicate with his art, conveying a powerful and resonating message to artists and non-artists alike.
“This is not a play about death. It’s a play about family and friendship,” director Joe Calarco said.
“Our hope for our patrons is that they feel an impact personally by the production, and by the performances that are given, that it causes us to embrace our lives and not take things for granted,” Mr. Jay Wallace, Chair of Theatre said. “We hope it’s entertaining and stunning, but more importantly we would like to find the value and the power of theater and I think this show really allows us to do that.”
Telling a story with far more than just their words and facial expressions, the actors were also challenged to take on multiple roles, as well as be able to tell a story through compelling body motions to bring an imaginary world and 2D drawings to life.
“This experience has helped me grow as an artist and a person in tremendous ways,” junior cast member Calvin Davey reflected. “[As an artist,] I was able to refresh my abilities on the stage and as a person, this experience has increased my confidence.”
Between the lighting, the choreography, the compelling delivery, and the beautiful set, it is difficult to pinpoint which was the best part of the show. There was something truly profound in the choreography that brimmed with its own life, the lighting that illustrated a complex portrait of family, love, and creativity, the life each actor breathed into their characters, and the final scene that ended on such a heartbreakingly beautiful scene full of warmth.
For more information on the last two performances of “The Yellow Boat,” tickets can be found at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3103328. For more information on CSArts-SGV, students can sign up for CSArts’ upcoming Preview Days on Nov 18 and Jan 20 at http://sgv.csarts.net/PreviewDay.