House of the Three-Quarter Round

The crew builds the set for “House of the Seven Gables.” The set was designed to give audiences a unique experience close to the action. Photo by Justin Scherzer, Current Staff.

By Justin Scherzer, Current Staff

The West Bend High Schools’ fall theatrical production will be a significant deviation from their usual shows as the audience will be seated directly on stage for a tale of greed, love and murder.

Director Tonya Fordham and her theatrical cast and crew will put on Vin Morreale Jr.’s play “House of the Seven Gables” Nov. 16-18 at the Silver Lining Arts Center. However, contrary to the majority of productions they put on, this play will be in black box style, meaning the audience will be seated on stage with the performers.

The purpose of having this show in black box style is to give the audience a deeper and more personal immersion with the characters of the story. In a normal play, audience members can be anywhere from 20-100 feet away from the stage, but in this productions the audience will range from 6-10 feet away from the actors.

“With black box style everything becomes more real, more visceral, more scary or more heartbreaking because everyone is right there to see it or feel it directly from the actors,” Fordham said.

Preparing for a play of this nature, however, does have its challenges, and it entails direction and acting distinct from traditionally seated productions.

“It really pumps up the pressure because there’s nothing to hide behind at all,” Fordham said. “All emotions have to come from a real place because the audience can detect lies or a lack of emotion. If you forget your line or drop your character, everyone is going to know it.”

Portrait of Judge Pyncheon, as played by Kyle Koenig. Photo courtesy of Tonya Fordham.

Kyle Koenig, a West senior playing the ruthless Judge Pyncheon, said he feels that pressure.

“We’re going to have to learn how to block out the audience more because they’re going to be right there with us, which is a big difference between what I’ve done in the past,” Koenig said.

A black box theatre also allows for flexible staging. This one is designed to be three-quarter round. That means the audience is seated both directly in front of the stage as well as on an angle from both the right and left sides of the stage.

“We have to learn how to block ourselves in ways so that all of the audience can hear us and see us from all seats,” said Lily Mottet, a West sophomore playing the destitute Hepzibah Pyncheon.

“House of the Seven Gables” is an adaptation of a gothic novel written in 1851 by Romantic author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The plot concerns a curse brought on a family whose ancestor hanged an innocent man during the Salem Witch Trials. The cast has found the script to be unique and challenging, and the preparation for the show has been different from anything they have done in the past.

“Due to the nature of the script, it’s extremely focused dialogue and relationships between each character and how each character differs from and interacts with one another” said McKenna Garvey, an East sophomore playing Phoebe, the country cousin of Hepzibah.

“It’s a really complex story with a different story ebb and flow than most others. There’s so many different layers to each character, and I think we are all very proud of it,” Mottet said.

Fordham has directed several plays in black box style in years past such as “The Giver” and “Little Women.” The only one that has been shown at WBHS in recent years was “Dark Road,” a theatrical short put on last spring. “House of the Seven Gables,” however, is a feature-length show that is much larger in scale.

“I would say this is one of my favorite scripts ever,” Fordham said.

“House of the Seven Gables” will show 7 p.m. Nov. 16-17 and both 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Nov. 18. Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults, and are available at the WBHS bookkeeper’s office, Glacier Hills Credit Union South or at the door. All proceeds go directly back into the high school drama program. Tickets are strictly limited to 100 per show, so there are no guaranteed seats if tickets are not purchased in advance.

The crew paints a portion of the set for “House of the Seven Gables.” Photo by Justin Scherzer, Current Staff.

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