Jeremy Schnotala ’94 overheard a woman leaving the theater after his production of Lord of the Flies murmuring, “I don’t know about that one.”
“That was the best compliment I had on the play,” he said.
He would not always have thought so.
The director of Wyoming Park (Mich.) High School’s theater company was raised in a Pentecostal milieu in which, he said, “You don’t read literature that shows what’s bad in the world; you only read what’s good. That’s where Calvin really opened me up.”
In particular, Schnotala credits his communications professor, Patricia Bloem (now Vandenberg). He used her words to reply to the school newspaper reporter who asked him about the controversy Lord of the Flies stirred among students: “Good theater doesn’t answer questions; it poses them and makes audience members answer those questions themselves.”
Schnotala’s decision to produce Lord of the Flies grew out of questions he heard his students already asking. “In class we’d been talking about the invasion of Iraq and the terrorist bombings of 9/11,” he said. “The kids saw pointing fingers and had questions about how blame gets assigned and evil labeled.”
Schnotala remembered the play script of William Golding’s novel. He’d found it in a London bookmart two summers before, tucked it into his backpack and forgotten it — until that class discussion. The kids’ questions, he realized, were the themes of Lord of the Flies.
Staging a story that has children kill other children did give Schnotala pause. But he decided to risk the dangers of its intensity for the spiritual potential the play offered to cast and crew and audience alike. Over three nights last February the Wyoming Park Theater Company’s production raised questions of good and evil, innocence and culpability to sold-out audiences in a town where only the high school’s sports teams can be counted on to draw those numbers.
Schnotala credits the 70 cast and crew members for the play’s success. “I think these kids were working on a par with a university company,” he said.
That he attracts so many to theater serves Schnotala’s productions well. Besides taking risks with themes, he takes risks in staging as well. His vision for Lord of the Flies included choral singing, choreography, silhouetted lighting, on-stage fire, a papier-mâché mountain and up to four costume and makeup changes for each actor. All this with no money other than what the company raised on its own.
He needed lots of help, and got it. Company members sometimes put in three to five hours a night after school, plus weekend time. Parents donated hundreds of hours of help, as did Calvin alum and art teacher Sherrie Davis ’99 and Calvin students Tammy Tobian and Lindsay DeKoter. It was clear to them all that, as Schnotala insists, the crew is as important to any production as the actors.
Schnotala is the first to admit he doesn’t sleep much during play season, and that he can get “ornery.” But knowing that at least one audience member left unsettled makes it worth putting in the sweat and sleepless hours again next year. The 70-plus kids he expects to show up at the next play’s auditions apparently think so, too.
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