SELMA – The fictional town of Grover’s Corners is a lot like Selma where babies are born, grow up, go to school and eventually get married. The small town is the setting of Selma High Drama Club’s latest production, “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.
The actors performing in this drama say that while the set may be sparse and the action mostly pantomimed, the strength in the show is its profound message.
Stage Manager Reyes Charnin introduces the audience to the fictional members of this community from the early 1900s, including the Gibbs and Webb families.
It’s a typical day in the neighborhood where the milk is being delivered, the paper boy is making his rounds and children are being sent off to school. The mothers in the play, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, gossip in their gardens and eventually their chatter turns to their life’s ambitions.
Once school lets out, George Gibbs meets his neighbor, Emily Webb, outside her home. The pair are destined to marry and in the next scene, time has flown by and it’s already their wedding day. In a flashback, you see how their school activities led to their romance. George had planned to attend an agriculture school, but scrapped that idea to stay in Grover’s Corners with Emily.
They marry, despite their jittery second thoughts. Instead of a happily-ever-after ending though, their lives take a tragic turn. It’s only then that Emily realizes she’s lived life without truly appreciating it.
Vanessa Vallejo has the role of Emily Webb and while it’s not her first stint on the stage, she’s still in awe of the experience of performing for a live audience.
“I’ve always loved to perform since I was little. I just didn’t know I had this in me and I didn’t know it was my interest until I tried it.”
Vallejo is in her second year of performing and took part in the Selma High’s “Aida” in 2018 and was involved in Selma Arts Center’s first teen theater production, “School of Rock.”
She can relate to Emily’s predicament as her character is experiencing what many emotions young people have when they’re first falling in love, yet are inexperienced in life and are unsure if they’re making the right decisions.
“She’s feeling love for the first time and is going through life so fast. Later, she realizes she should have taken the time to go slow. She gets married and has her kids and she doesn’t realize what she left behind.”
Vallejo said she’s had a wake-up call of her own after seeing her character come to grips with how she’s taken life for granted.
“Emily’s wishes different things would have happened, like her mom would have paid more attention to her. She just wants her old life back since that’s all she’s ever known, but she realizes they’re still not paying attention to her and she can’t go back.”
Vallejo said now she’s making her own effort to not take everyday events for granted. She hopes audience members leave with that same appreciation for simple things.
“We have to appreciate those and live in those moments like when you’re just hanging out with friends, being in Drama Club and being my age. It makes you want to live life to the fullest and appreciate the friends you have. Every memory counts.”
Amiannah Martinez portrays Emily’s mother, Mrs. Webb. She thinks audiences will identify with the familiarity of the town but hopes the show gets audiences members thinking about forging their own paths in life.
“The whole idea about life and the order of how it is supposed to be does still come into play today. We can still relate to this, but I think our society has come to the point where we don’t have to do what’s expected. We can be our own person and do something different than what people have done in the past,” she said.
Major life decisions are not that far off for these young actors themselves. Graduation will come sooner than they realize it and then decisions about careers and families will be next.
Martinez said her own experience in drama is teaching her to be bold and appreciate every experience in life. This is her fourth year of being involved in drama, but she knows some who’ve waited until their last years of school to get involved.
“People won’t try out for drama until their junior or senior year. It’s not too late, but they wished they started earlier. We should live life to the fullest and try new things and not be afraid to have new experiences.”
Sadahri Louise Wren portrays Mrs. Gibbs and Cristian Ramos has the role of her son, George Gibbs. While Mrs. Gibbs may not have pushed her son into marriage, she’s typical of many mothers who want to see her children happily married someday.
“She’s sentimental and views her family as great aspects in her life, but there’s a scene where she comes out as says she doesn’t want him to get married. George rushes himself [into marriage] and he’s super in love,” Wren said.
She agrees that teens and young people should watch the show since it may help them put life into perspective.
“The show makes me appreciate all I’ve been given. I’m truly blessed and sometimes I can take that for granted. This show has really opened my eyes and I think it will open others’ eyes to look at the big picture. People get caught up in small things and don’t look at the bigger things.”
Ramos realizes not all students are into live theater, but watching “Our Town” can be a real eye-opener, he said.
“It will change your perspective on life. It makes me stop and think about my family. The message helps you appreciate life because [eventually] you just have a bunch of regrets that you didn’t do stuff you could have done.”
Drama Club adviser and English teacher Brynn Saponara said they’re continuing to rebuild the program after many of Selma High’s actors graduated this past year. The recruitment efforts paid off as there were more students auditioning to be in the play this year than in past.
“What was also surprising was that every male character I needed to cast, I was able to cast.”
With rehearsals gearing up to opening night on Nov. 30, the message of the story is really sinking in with the actors, Saponara said.
“They hit the nail on the head and knew exactly what the message was to not take your life or family for granted. Time is short and it’s precious and when it’s over, you’ll wish you had it back.”
Saponara adds that with technology and the distractions of modern life, it can be even more of a challenge to not let life slip by.
“There’s this really great scene where she’s asking her mother if she’s pretty and her mother never even stops and looks at her to give her an honest answer. It’s a rare moment her mother is just letting pass by. In our society now, it hits home because we have so much to look at.”
Saponara said many high school and college students only fully fathom some of the missed opportunities of their education on the day of graduation. She’s hoping students will see the show, take chances and appreciate all the little moments of life instead.
For herself, “Our Town” has reminded Saponara to take a moment and really appreciate her own family that she misses while at work during the school day.
“When I go home, all I want to do is look at my children. My son’s with his kindergarten teacher during the day and she gets more time with him than I do. This type of play makes me go home and remember to cherish those moments.”