By Sara Gregory
Students lounge in the house seats of the Rhoda and Earl Wynn Theater at Carrboro’s ArtsCenter. The stage lights flicker and the music comes on over the sound system.
Project Director Kaity Neagle jumps up from the edge of the stage.
“Alright, we’re starting,” she says loudly.
Suddenly the theater is abuzz with activity. Students hurry backstage, stage managers set up props and Neagle takes her seat in the house to watch the dress rehearsal of The February 48, the result of 28 high school students gathering to write, rehearse and perform a play – in 48 hours.
The lights dim and rise, showing three girls sitting around a table, deep in thought and conversation.
“The universe is shaped exactly like the earth,” says Siobhan McGowan, playing Elenor in “The Right Turn”.
And they’re off.
The one-acts that follow, four in all, range in topics from life at 30 to speed dating for singles, conversations with Krishna and sibling feuds about the correct pronunciation of “Nietzsche.”
Kiernan McGowan started The February 48 three years ago. It has become an annual event, produced by One Song Productions, a nonprofit student-led theater group based in Carrboro. It is the only original-content production that One Song performs each year.
Many of this year’s particiapants are returners, like Jennifer Nakayama, who acted for the third time this year.
Nakayama said she keeps coming back to perform because of the scripts and the camaraderie.
“The scripts are written by our peers. It’s so great to have that opportunity to perform something written by people your own age,” Nakayama said.
Nakayama attends East Chapel Hill High School, and said the event, which features students from East Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill High School, Carolina Friends School and Cedar Ridge High School, gives her a chance to meet other students.
Though it comes together in 48 hours, Neagle said it’s a mistake to think it happens without extensive planning.
One Song Productions’ board of directors began planning in late autumn, reserving the ArtsCenter stage in November. The board found sponsors and arranged meeting and rehearsal space.
Auditions were held Feb. 10 at the Chapel Hill Public Library, and chosen students gathered Friday night to kick off the event at the Open Eye Café in Carrboro.
“This weekend has been full of unexpected things,” said Alison Kibbe, who acted in The February 48 for the first time this year.
“You don’t know who you’re going to be with, or what script you’re going to have. There’s that unknown element of ‘What’s it going to be like? Am I going to like it?’ that’s always exciting,” Kibbe said.
Participants split up into four groups shortly and the writers hunkered down to complete scripts by midnight.
The board reviewed scripts for grammatical errors and actors received the scripts Saturday morning.
With the writers’ work complete, actors and directors began rehearsing, working until late Saturday evening.
“You rehearse into the night as long as you can until you’re too tired,” Nakayama said.
“At first you feel like you’ll never learn your lines, but you do,” she said.
Sunday morning the cast and crew assembled at the ArtsCenter to put the final pieces together.
Students described the weekend as intense but enjoyable.
“It’s like a lukewarm hell, as opposed to a burning hell,” said Ryan Pater. Pater performed this year for the second time.
Dress rehearsal comes to a close as the show’s final one-act winds down. Cassidy Cooper, Bonnie Jones and Lizzie McManus sit among the cardboard boxes on stage as their characters pack for a move to Colorado.
Cooper stands up under the spotlight to speak the final line.
“If you go straight long enough you’ll end up where you were,” she says.
“Alright, that’s it,” Neagle says to the cast and crew as the house lights are brought back up.
“Everyone in the house.”
The students assemble for last minute instructions and with a tired sigh, Neagle releases the cast for a short break before the real performance begins at 7 p.m.
Most of the cast head to the green room backstage and collapse on to the couches.
“There are a few little things we’re going to work on,” said cast member Colin Warren-Hicks.
“I think it’s always surprising though how well it comes together,” said Alison Kibbe. “At this point, we’re just nitpicking everything to make it better before the show starts.”
While many congregate in the green room, Neagle sits in the auditorium, fielding last minute questions on lighting, sound, props and the cost of T-shirts and sweatshirts.
It’s hard to tell under her calm and collected demeanor that she’s only slept eight hours over the the weekend.
Neagle’s work won’t be over when the lights dim and the audience leaves, either. Instead, she and the rest of the cast will help take down the set and remove props from the ArtsCenter.
And yet she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Someone once said ‘The February 48’ was so successful because no one has time to think, to second guess themselves,” Neagle said.
“The writers, they write. The actors, they act from their gut. The people involved don’t have time to questions themselves. It’s a very pure thing,” she said.
“It’s really an amazing thing we do here.”