By VANESSA LANGDON
For Your Niskayuna
NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna High School Drama Club is a lifestyle for the 50-plus students who participate.
The dedicated group of students will be trying their hand at something different for this year’s spring play — a murder mystery. For the last five years or so, the club has been putting on comedic plays, but this year’s student directors, Ethan Schalekamp and Zoey Schlesinger, chose to test their actors with Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
“People thought we were kidding,” said Schlesinger of the chosen play. “It was more of a shock.”
The move away from comedy was one that club advisers Regina Maley and Kelly Millett were apprehensive about.
“They are funny kids and received well by the audience, there is always lots of laughs,” said Maley of how the group had fallen into a successful comfort zone.
The advisers put their faith in the directors and the show went on.
“The good thing about this show is that it’s a well-known novel,” she added.
Maley, executive secretary at Rosendale Elementary, noticed the play’s fame firsthand one day at work. A Rosendale alumnus, now a sixth-grader at a Niskayuna middle school, saw Maley’s screen saver — the poster for the show — and mentioned that he was reading the novel in his English class and would love to go see the play.
“I’m soliciting customers at work,” said Maley with a laugh.
Maley and Millett put in the extra work soliciting customers and putting their blood sweat and tears into their end of the bargain because they feel the students have earned it.
“They’re leaders, most of them are leaders,” said Millett of the teens she described as the most evolved group in the school.
Millett, an English teacher, runs the drama club homeroom. The homeroom is their secret weapon allowing them one-on-one time throughout the day, not just rehearsals here and there.
The homeroom came in handy when adjusting to another challenge — in addition to the genre change, was a time crunch. Thanks to the school calendar and the timing of spring break this year, the club had to shave three weeks off their rehearsal schedule, which was no small feat.
“We’re doing it almost a month earlier,” Maley said, an accomplishment she is most proud of.
Millett is constantly amazed at how self-sufficient the group is.
“We don’t have to tell them what to do they are actively engaged,” she said. “The pilots of their own ship.”
Piloting that ship is hard work but a job that Schalekamp and Schlesinger have enjoyed — the pair of seniors have been prepping for the production since August, when they chose the show.
“Every day there’s something that [the advisers] bring to us that we have to do,” said Schalekamp. “Every day we have something new on our plate.”
As all the hard work is about to pay off in tech week, often called “hell week” — the week before the curtain opens.
“I think it’s really common for the people involved to really enjoy it, and the theater itself — you forget that it’s in a high school,” he said of the experience — when the family comes together to pull it all off.
Even with the limited time, Schlesinger is confident in her cast of 11 students.
“I’m not worried about tech week this year,” she said.
The pair have resorted to some interesting tactics to ensure that their cast is firing at all cylinders.
“We kind of bribe them to give them motivation,” Schlesinger said.
She made two dozen brownies for members of the cast who had earned the most “brownie points.”
The change of pace has been good for the student actors and has allowed them to broaden their range, according to the student directors — had fun creating their characters and each actor likes how his character dies on the secluded island to which they have been invited.
Will you be able to figure out who’s killing them off one by one?
The show goes on at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 14. Other performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. The play will be in the Little Theater at Niskayuna High School.
“A murder mystery was a nice change of pace,” said Schalekamp. “As opposed to years past when things happened on stage and there wasn’t much stimulation in their minds, this year I think people will be on the edge of their seats.”
By VANESSA LANGDON