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Quite a final act for these drama students

It was the final dress rehearsal before their final performance as high school drama students.

Set doors wouldn’t close. A prop vase just wouldn’t shatter, no matter how many times it was thrown against a wall. And final exams awaited them the next morning.

Yet there was a palpable sense of relief. The senior theater students at Culver City High School got to put on a show.

It nearly didn’t happen because of some real high school drama.

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They had worked for months — writing scripts, building sets, putting together a wardrobe — not knowing if their show would ever make the stage.

The students had been without a drama teacher since the beginning of the semester. Kevin Mitchell, one of the student directors, said the class voted to do the show on their own. School administrators had said the students could perform on a weekday afternoon or they would have to cancel.

“I was apprehensive how things were going to happen, but I just had faith,” said Emma Niles, a director. “It didn’t matter if we did it in a park — it was going to happen.”

They made it happen by way of hustle and good fortune. Costumes came together by raiding closets. Furniture for sets was borrowed from friends. Rehearsals continued wherever they could find the space, including on the high school football field.

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“I didn’t have a lot of faith we would make it,” said Amandalynn Digirolamo, who worked as a stage manager and designed props. “A lot of us didn’t have our hearts in it for a while.”

This is where luck came in.

Susannah Funnell, the mother of a sophomore drama student, heard of the students’ quandary. She is the head of visual arts for The Willows Community School, a private campus in Culver City with a theater of its own. The theater wasn’t booked and the school opened it up to them — for free.

Once The Willows stepped in, the students say their outlook changed. Previously, Nathan Palman, an actor (and the one who threw the vase a half-dozen times before it broke), said the group had fallen into a rut. But after they practiced on a stage, under the glow of bright lights and before an empty auditorium, their momentum began to pick up.

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Their performance last weekend was warmly received with roars of laughter — it was a comedy, after all — and waves of applause. The show included two one-act plays: “Follow the Leader,” an original work written by Kevin and Emma, a rollicking science-fiction comedy featuring a lot of aluminum foil, green lighting and a cardboard time machine; and an adaption of “The Veldt,” Ray Bradbury’s alarmingly prescient short story on the dangers of too much technology.

In the end, the experience gave the students an education in what it takes to turn a concept into an actual performance. It wasn’t easy.

During the final rehearsal, as actors scurried to change costumes and the crew changed the set, Kevin stood in the empty audience and marveled at what he and his classmates had managed to accomplish.

“We have a stage. We have lights. We have a show.”

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rick.rojas@latimes.com


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