In "Catholic School Girls," there's a fine line between teacher and student.
The upcoming production at ARTworks in Beaufort is a lighthearted look at life in a Catholic school in the 1960s, as related by New York playwright Casey Kurtti. A gulf exists between the strict nuns who run the school and the children of the '60s who attend it. But in actuality, nun and student are much more similar. The four main actors will play both nun and student.
The setup provides for each actor to get inside the heads of two seemingly different characters. The cast gathered in January to develop back stories for each of the characters, said director Gail Westerfield of Misspent Youth Productions.
That gave them an opportunity to look at the nuns in a new light, to see how they were once in the same position as the young girls they teach. Setting the play in the '60s provides a contrast between the limited career paths the nuns faced as youth and the broadening world of opportunities that were opening up to women at the time. Having the same actor play both roles makes that gulf less wide than it seems.
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"It's not just a straight-forward characterization," Westerfield said. "It's a challenge for the actors. It becomes a bit of a surprise for the audience, too."
Joellen Hirschey, who plays second-grader Elizabeth, attended a Catholic school. Though it wasn't as strict as the school in the play, she still had a relatable experience.
"I'm so like Elizabeth, but I couldn't be even more different than my nun," she said.
The actual transition between two characters isn't that difficult to pull off, the actors say. It's a lot of quick changes -- so quick that, in one instance, Shawn Sproatt has to change while reciting lines as one character backstage -- but not anything unmanageable.
Hirschey, for example, was in another Misspent Youth Production, "The Dining Room," where she played 10 different roles.
"The next play, I hope I'm just one character," she said with a laugh.