Sophomore, Westminster School at Oak Mountain
Westminster’s clubs and other avenues of extracurricular involvement have been a topic of frequent discussion over the past few years. Each year brings new opportunities for students to become involved with all the school has to offer outside of academics. However, last August brought something special and unique to the students of the Upper School. Mr. Riley Kross, an alumnus of Furman University with a degree in English literature, recently joined the Westminster faculty as a humanities teacher. Mr. Kross, in addition to his expertise in the realms of literature and public speaking, possesses a love for drama tempered by substantial experience as a playwright. As a result he has introduced a revitalization of the thespian arts within the Upper School. Since the performance of the musical Annie several years ago, there has not been a significant theatrical endeavor at Westminster. Even so, a good bit of interest has remained among the student body, which has helped to fuel the current attempt to remedy that situation.
Mr. Kross has taken charge of the initiative to create a Westminster drama club much like what has existed in past years, but he has added a few distinctive features. For one, this year’s drama club is characterized by improvisational exercises in the form of games. These are largely based off the format of the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, although many are variations of games from the show or even completely new inventions. Such games allow a student to gain confidence in acting with and in front of one another, and they sharpen the student’s capability of thinking on the spot while portraying a specific character. Additionally, Mr. Kross has introduced playwriting, an area of strong personal experience, to his drama students during the spring semester. He divided the students into groups of two to three and is allowing each group to compose a unique play of roughly ten minutes with the goal to perform later this year. This process is twofold: it incorporates the major elements of literary composition including plot and character development, while it also offers group acting experience to students.
Sophomore Joey Gissendaner, a proud member of the Westminster drama club since its inception, is currently working with two other students on a play that assesses relationships within the acting world itself. The three have created a story detailing an interview between a director and an actor as it unfolds. Gissendaner remarks that playwriting is a lot of fun but still somewhat difficult due to a lack of prior training. Thankfully, the nature of the club is such that all students are encouraged to come and take part regardless of varying levels of experience. He goes on to state, “Drama club lets me connect with kids I would not otherwise connect with in a way that’s lighthearted and fun.” To Gissendaner and many others, drama club both sharpens one’s acting skills as well as provides a means for building relationships with students of similar interests.
Daniel Hughes, also a Westminster sophomore, joined the drama club more recently but has quickly rekindled a passion for acting and is now in regular attendance at the weekly meetings. He relates that acting is a family legacy for him and that it seems theater has always been a part of his life. “I just enjoy acting,” he explains frankly. Hughes stresses that drama club offers him a way “to hang out with friends and have fun.” He especially enjoys being a part of the wide variety of improvisational games available to the students. Among his personal favorites is the question game, in which students rotating in two lines do their best to carry on a conversation by only asking questions of each other. He also enjoys table swap, where four students engage in a dialogue while four personality traits rotate between them. Hughes is also currently a part of a group working on a play titled Poor Shundley. The setting of the play is the office of an arrogant but incapable lawyer who makes a hobby out of harassing his hard-working clerk Mr. Shundley. The storyline centers around a conversation between the lawyer and a spoiled college graduate interviewing for a job at the firm, who likewise sets himself at odds with the meek Mr. Shundley. Hughes, who portrays the abused clerk, explains how he enjoys playing this role. He jokes, “Shundley is a funny character, probably more hard-working than I am!” Despite the differences in character, however, Hughes appreciates how portraying someone unlike oneself can be beneficial and allow a person to explore more fully the dynamics of human emotion. Altogether, Hughes views the playwriting/acting experience as one that is ultimately creative in nature, but he also notes that it is a great way to institute team-building among students.
Apart from just these specific testimonies, the lure of the dramatic experience is one that has captivated mankind since ages past. The Greco-Roman world was marked by an obsession with the spectacle of theater. The great tragic and comedic playwrights of the ancient world were those who best captured on stage fragments of the ever-so-intricate human experience. At a school devoted to a classical curriculum, it is more than appropriate that students have the opportunity to experience one of the cultural phenomena of classical times. Furthermore, drama does much to enrich the world of Christian education. It provides a unique and exciting means of offering vivid portrayal to the wide spectrum of human emotions which have been created by God. Westminster now possesses a direct avenue of contact with this art, perfected over the centuries by giants such as Thespis, Aeschylus, and Shakespeare. It would seem, then, that there can be nothing left to do but take the step of faith out onto the world’s stage.
The Westminster drama club meets weekly every Tuesday during lunch in Mr. Kross’s classroom. All Upper School students interested are encouraged to attend. Contact Mr. Riley Kross with any questions.