MOUNT VERNON — What few words could sum up a world of boisterous fun, comic creativity and friendship tempered by the blaze of the spotlight? For a group of enterprising Mount Vernon High School students, it might be these: Meeker’s at it again.
Steven Meeker Jr. headed up a production last year of an original script he directed and co-wrote, “The Average High School Play.” The show was performed by friends and classmates, and was produced through the community theater group the Mount Vernon Players in the summer of 2009. The play was a good-natured satire of both school theater and cheesy high school musicals, and it saw the cast having so much fun it was impossible not to get caught up in it.
When Meeker announced he had a sequel, many were eager to reprise their roles or take on new ones.
“The biggest draw was Steven,” said Michael Shoemaker, a veteran of last year’s show. “He’s a great director and he made it a lot of fun.”
All of the youths are clearly inspired by Meeker’s inspirations, but additional reasons to participate abound.
“It’s the opportunity to do a show that only the youth put on,” said Catherine Blencowe.
“I wanted to see what would happen,” said Katie Pido, referring to the fact that this year’s play is a sequel: “The Average High School Play 2: The Average High School Romance.”
Several cast members are reprising roles from the first show, while some new ones will be appearing as well.
That’s not to say casting has been easy. The cast is very protective of Paul Nordmoe, who was talked into being the replacement for the replacement for the replacement for the actor originally planning on doing one of the roles. Now that they have Nordmoe, whom Meeker praised for his natural stage presence, they find he has brought new angles and ideas.
Meeker said Stephanie Fongheiser was another new cast member who found a completely different world in her character than the previous actress. Fongheiser said she’s thrilled to join this cast, make new friends and do her first community theater show.
A number of cast members were lost to the competing schedule of the school’s swim team.
“They’ve become our arch-rivals,” Shoemaker joked, while Meeker mock-seriously warned that the rivalry “may come to fisticuffs.”
“I was surprised at the direction of some of the romantic aspects and relationships,” Katie Pido said.
Meeker admits being surprised himself at how the characters and plot took on a life of their own as he was writing the show. He said that his ultimate preference, however, goes to directing.
“Being a writer is way more difficult,” Meeker said.
“It’s tedious, back-breaking work,” teased Doug Reitsma, the court jester of a cast full of jokers.
Reitsma, who insisted he be described as “naturally buff” for this article, is reprising his role from last year, but is also getting his daily workout moving set pieces for the play’s numerous scene changes. His character offers some introspective difficulties, too.
“I don’t like how much of a jerk he is,” Reitsma said about his character, wryly concluding, “but I do it well.”
Eleanor Griggs was a late joiner to the project, and she said it took her a while to figure out what was going on, as she was unfamiliar with the previous script. Alexa McDonald was unable to do the show last year, but was free this year and has had fun creating a new role Meeker wrote for her specifically.
Stage manager Danielle Godby, who is also acting in the show, said she hasn’t had any problems herding her friends around backstage.
“They know when I’m joking and when I’m being serious,” Godby said, something that clearly applies to Meeker’s interaction with his classmates as well. The hard work becomes a labor of love.
“It takes a lot of time, but in the end it pays off,” Pido said.
To share their fun, the students are presenting the show under the sponsorship of the Mount Vernon Players. The performances, which include a memorable group rendition of Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies,” will include an open final dress rehearsal on Thursday, Jan. 14, and official presentations Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. All performances will take place at ThePlace@TheWoodward, 111 S. Main St., Mount Vernon. For more information call Meeker at 392-9980.