Getting their act together

Cortez Middle School prepares for performance

Bandits enter the town in the middle school play The Masked Musketeer. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Bandits enter the town in the middle school play "The Masked Musketeer."

Russell Tevault is a young thespian and for awhile this 13-year old was getting a little bored. As a face in the former community theater and arts group Whirligigs, Tevault found himself looking to extras and technical roles in select Montezuma-Cortez High School plays to get his stage fix.

Last year, as a seventh-grader Tevault met Autumn Bryce, the Cortez Middle School social studies teacher. They bonded over a love of theater and started to brainstorm ideas.

"We had talked about a drama club and starting one here (CMS)," Tevault explains. "Last year Ms. Bryce went to the principal and asked if we could do it."

The principal said yes and it was time to get their act together.

It didn't happen overnight, but the school was convinced to get the ball rolling. With funds from the 21st Century grant, CMS was able to produce the Jaguar's Dramatic Arts Club or JAG/DAC in the fall of 2012. However, money was still tight and Bryce was struggling to find ways to raise funds. Bryce has been teaching at CMS for two years. She had struck up a friendship with M-CHS theater director Nicholaus Sandner and she helped direct his fall production "Arsenic and Lace."

"Mr. Sandner and I have talked off and on about how to incorporate a drama club into the middle school," Bryce says. "In our conversations he would casually say 'So how's the club going? What do your funds look like?' And we had nothing."

So Sandner kindly donated $200 to Bryce and the CMS drama club.

"That was our foundation. That's where I started building from," she adds.

She used the donation to purchase food for fundraising and the club took off from there. Once everything was running smoothly, Bryce told the administration that the club was ready to do put on a performance. Their first production, "The Masked Musketeer" will be performed on Friday and Saturday Feb. 22-23.

Bryce said 35 kids, from sixth to eighth grade auditioned for the play and most of them have been involved with the production in some way.

"Some did not want to help if they didn't have speaking roles and that's OK," Bryce says. "But the majority are helping with sets, costumes, lighting, anything that needs help with behind the scenes."

Tevault landed the role of Lorenzo, the lead musketeer. When the club officially began, Tevault was excited and anxious. He had made a home with the Whirligigs, friends with the high school director and was now ready to show his peers what the fuss was all about.

"I don't think most kids know what to do in school, like, with activities," Tevault explains. "This club brings kids that don't fit in together. They find new friends, have fun and get to be creative. That was my experience before and I'm glad I got to help bring that to these kids."

Bryce calls Tevault her guinea pig. She says he was the brains behind the operation. His desire is what gave Bryce the incentive to push the idea. She was confident there were others out there just like him. If Bryce could help her actors become more involved and educated about the world of theater, she hoped that would cultivate a larger interest as the students head into Sandner's program.

"These aren't the sports kids here," she says. "We have a few that play football and basketball, but the others had nothing here to participate in."

Bryce and Tevault are hoping to ease the transition into high school by offering CMS students other after-school activities. Tevault has already participated in two high school plays. He was an extra in "Seussical the Musical" in fall 2011 and as a technician in "Arsenic and Lace." The high school puts on a musical every year that is open to middle school students so from here, he plans to audition for the upcoming "Annie." Bryce says Tevault isn't the only one heading in that direction.

"These kids don't mind bouncing from one show to the next," she says. "That's good because they will go into high school with more knowledge and instead of doing basic stuff Mr. Sandner can take them directly to step two and increase the quality of the shows."

Bryce has worked with her students on voice projection, character building, skits and improvisation. She says these exercises are not only good for acting but for building relationships with each other so they are more comfortable.

Tevault has no problem getting comfortable on stage. He found it hard in the beginning for the kids to open up, but now everyone is one "messed up family."

"The funnest thing about being in a play is hanging out with friends and getting ready for the show," Tevault says. "Hopefully after this play, other kids will see how much fun we are having and they'll want to join the club."

Tevault says that when he leaves CMS to tackle the drama department at M-CHS, he will return to help out the JAG/DAC club whenever he can, just like seniors Joshua Martin and Cayden O'Brien. These two high school actors pulled away from their busy schedules to choreograph the fight scenes for "The Masked Musketeer."

Bryce is overjoyed with the support she has received from Sandner and his pupils. She is hoping JAG/DAC can swing a musical in the near future as long as there is interest and commitment. She also wants to direct one spring and one fall production each year the club is successful. For now, the two schools will continue to combine acting force for the sake of theater.

Cortez Middle School students prepare for their play, “The Masked Musketeer,” with warm up exercises. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Cortez Middle School students prepare for their play, “The Masked Musketeer,” with warm up exercises.

The women of the town discover all the men have been called to war in a scene from the middle school play. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

The women of the town discover all the men have been called to war in a scene from the middle school play.

Director Autumn Bryce applies makeup to one of the bandits, played by Alyssa Wendt. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Director Autumn Bryce applies makeup to one of the bandits, played by Alyssa Wendt.