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Annual All-State Play unites student performers throughout western suburbs

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Erica Benson - ebenson@shawmedia.com)
Thirty students from across the state, including Brittney Blackorby (left) of Jerseyville, Celine Dirkes of Wheeling and Molly Hernandez of Glen Ellyn, go over a scene from the "Grapes of Wrath" as part of the 2014 Illinois High School Theatre Festival's All-State Play during rehearsal Monday, Oct. 14 at Glenbard East High School.

Students from all over Illinois, including several high schools in the Chicago area, have been hard at work preparing for the 2014 Illinois High School Theatre Festival’s All-State Play, which will be shared with about 4,000 students in January.

John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” will be directed by Glenbard East High School Fine Arts Department Chair and Theater Director Mark Kaetzer and will feature 56 students, including some from Glenbard East, Glenbard North, Glenbard West and Willowbrook high schools, as cast or stage crew members.

Kaetzer has been involved with the All-State Play in some capacity since 1986. Although he’s held roles that included executive director of the entire festival, this is his first year directing the premiere performance.

“It is a great honor,” Kaetzer said. “I think it’s one of the greatest honors a high school director can be awarded with.”

Kaetzer was asked in mid-2012 to direct the show. He put together his production team of current and former high school faculty members by January 2013, and auditions and interviews for students were held in June. Rehearsals began in August before school started.

Because students involved with the show come from as far away as Benton in southern Illinois, rehearsals are held over long weekends, including Labor Day Weekend and most recently, Columbus Day Weekend, at Glenbard East.

The students will again come together the weekend after Thanksgiving, and their next rehearsal after that will not take place until January, shortly before their shows Jan. 9 and 10 at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal.

Kaetzer isn’t used to working on an interrupted rehearsal schedule, but he said he mapped out the practices as best he could before they began. And with students like those involved with the All-State Play, making progress in a limited amount of time has been easier than might be expected.

“You’re also working with an incredibly high caliber of kid,” Kaetzer said.

One of those high-caliber students is Glenbard West junior Molly Hernandez of Glen Ellyn, who plays Rose of Sharon in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Hernandez decided to audition for this year’s All-State Play after being blown away by last year’s performance of “Memphis,” she said.

For Hernandez, as well as Willowbrook junior Jack Corkery of Villa Park, the proximity of Glenbard East to their homes also played a major role in their decision to audition.

Corkery will play Grampa Joad.

Besides Hernandez, Glenbard Township High School District 87 is represented in the production by two other students, Glenbard East senior Giana Biddle of Lombard and Glenbard North junior Sarah Marino of Carol Stream.

Both are working on set construction and will take on other roles for the performances themselves, including sound board and running crew, which makes sure all the set pieces and props are where they need to be.

While the students are excited to see the finished product, they said they’ll be sad when the experience comes to an end.

Stage crew members Biddle and Marino have appreciated the knowledge and skills of their peers, and Hernandez and Corkery have enjoyed working with other actors amid an atmosphere of respect and a lack of offstage drama.

“So many tears to come,” Biddle said. “I can feel it.”

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