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East stages divine one-act play

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Duluth East senior Aaron Hess, far right, says a quick prayer of thanks for a doughnut while playing a disillusioned preacher in the East High School one-act production "The Diviners." From left to right, Nick Van Loh, Clara Baker, Grant Carl, and Aaron Hess. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 6
Buddy, played by East sophomore Nick Van Loh, refuses to take a bath, despite the urging of C.C. Showers, played by senior Aaron Hess. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 6
Duluth East senior Aaron Hess, playing preacher C.C. Showers, goes fishing with Ellen Roubik in East's one-act production of "The Diviners." (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 6
Duluth East junior Pearl Elliot, playing Luella Bennet, recounts the story of falling off her bicycle during a recent one-act rehearsal of "The Diviners." (Photo by Teri Cadeau)5 / 6
Duluth East student Chloe Voss reacts when Nick Van Loh chases her with a worm during rehearsal of "The Diviners." (Photo by Teri Cadeau)6 / 6

Theater isn’t generally thought of as a competitive school activity. While actors might compete against each other for a certain role, it’s rare to find entire play productions competing against each other. But that’s exactly what students at East High School are preparing to do with their one-act production of “The Diviners” by Jim Leonard Jr.

“It’s a bit of a different atmosphere. We have time constraints, so it’s a little more pressure filled to hit your cues and keep the play moving along,” said one-act co-director Greg Jones. “But we’ve got strong performers in the cast and crew and we encourage them to do put on the best show they can.”

One-act competition is different than a regular play production. There are many strict regulations to keep the competition fair. The basic rules are that the play must be performed in 35 minutes or less; the set must be portable and fit within a 10-by-10-foot square before the performance and moved onto the stage in 10 minutes or less. If these and a few other regulations are not met, the play is disqualified from the competition.

“It’s pretty intense. We had to cut what’s normally a two hour play down to just 35 minutes,” said senior Clara Baker. “That took a long time.”

On Jan. 28, the one-act will compete in the section 7AA subsection contest held on their home stage. But before that competition, the play will be featured in a public performance in the Duluth East Annual Night of the Arts on Jan. 26, a yearly showcase that features students in the fine arts on stage with music, speeches and theater.

“It’s really nice because it’s like a warm-up for us, but in front of a friendly audience of your parents and friends, not judges and competitors,” said sophomore Nick Van Loh.

Van Loh plays Buddy, one of the main characters in “The Diviners.” Buddy is a developmentally disabled young man who develops a friendship with a disenchanted preacher in southern Indiana in the early 1930s.

“Buddy has the mind of a 5-year-old because he was underwater too long as a baby, but his mother rescued him from the water, but drowns in the process. So Buddy has a lifelong phobia of water and he doesn’t bathe, which makes him itch from ringworm,” Van Loh said. “It’s a very different character for me. I have to take a few minutes to put my mind into that childlike viewpoint.”

This is Van Loh’s second year competing in one-act. His fellow lead character, the preacher, is played by senior Aaron Hess. This is Hess’ first time acting.

“It’s a little bit intimidating, to memorize all the lines and know that people will be judging you. It’s a big learning curve,” Hess said. “But I wanted to try something new and completely different, kind of like my character.”

Hess’ preacher is set on breaking away from a long line of Kentucky family preachers and is determined not to preach again when he arrives at the small town and in turn develops a unique friendship with Buddy. The townspeople, after losing their last preacher 10 years earlier, are determined to convince the preacher to preach again.

“He doesn’t want to. He wants a fresh start and to work with his hands. But there’s some drama about that,” Hess said.

The public is invited to see the performance during the Annual Night of the Arts. There is a suggested $5 donation at the door.

If you go

What: Duluth East Annual Night of the Arts, including performance of one-act play “The Diviners”

Where: Duluth East High School Auditorium, 301 N. 40th Avenue E.

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 26

Cost: Suggested $5 donation at the door

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176