North Hills graduate pens script for high school play
What if the Mayans are correct, and the world does come to an end — just like their calendar — on Dec. 21, 2012?
Playwright Rob Speer, a 2001 North Hills graduate, took this question and added a twist: “On the next day – when it wasn't, how would you deal with what you've done?”
When he and his co-writer and friend Kevin Richey of Gibsonia were through with their script based on this premise, they had created the North Hills School District's first commissioned comedy, which will be performed this week on the senior high school stage. In exchange for a few hundred dollars for the rights and multiple scripts, they created an opportunity for student actors to bring a premiere to life.
“He did it for us,” said director Glen Richey, of Speer.
“He knows what we could do.”
Speer, 30, had walked the high school stage as a student, with roles in six shows.
“He liked comedy even then,” Glen Richey said.
Speer's funny streak ultimately took him to The Second City comedy club, theater and school in Chicago.
“I plugged in in 2009, taking classes and doing performances,” said Speer, a former Ross Township resident who now lives in Chicago.
Having graduated from the improvisation and conservatory programs there, he now studies musical sketch comedy and hones his craft by doing three or four shows at a time in the city's storefront theaters.
“I was the goofy kid in class,” said Speer, remembering the trouble he got into as a fifth-grader for telling a joke about being buried naked.
Now with three plays to his credit, he was ready for the challenge of preparing a script that matched the North Hills director's request: a contemporary comedy with 20-plus characters.
“It's hard to turn talented students down,” said Glen Richey, of McCandless.
Speer put the setting for his end-times fantasy in a big-box store filled with shoppers who are making purchases and living out what they think are the last hours of their lives. Eight main characters move the show along.
Senior Jared Bogolea, 17, of Ross Township plays the store manager.
“He's sarcastic and sassy to the people,” said Bogolea, who took to the role naturally, as he does to comedy.
He said he appreciates that he can take this unfamiliar character from a new play and make him his own.
While the teen doesn't think the end of the world is coming, he still chuckles at his favorite line in response to a shout of “Armageddon!”: “Ar ma geddin' outta here.”
Patrice Bailey, also a 17-year-old senior from Ross Township, plays Katy Vega, the store's head cashier.
“She's shy in the beginning and pretends she doesn't know what's going on,” Bailey said.
But behind it all, Vega is quite aware of the last-day panic. She also is focused on the head of the sporting goods department.
“They have a thing,” said the young actress, who has been on stage since she was 7.
Bailey recommends the show to all audiences.
“The kids will like the physical comedy; and the teens, the pop culture references. There are movie and history references for the adults.”
The collaboration between Speer and the younger Richey, assistant director of this play, was easy because of their 15-year friendship.
The men worked up the story line together and discussed the characters; then, Speer set about writing the script last spring. The pages passed between the two about half a dozen times, Richey, 32, said.
“There's a lot of wordplay in act one,” said Kevin Richey, “and a lot of physical comedy in act two.”
After last year's “My Fair Lady” cast did a read-through last summer and found the work to be funny, Glen Richey said, this year's young cast has jelled around the words during their 10 weeks of rehearsals.
“It's off the wall and goofy,” he said of the newest play to be added to the many he has directed since 1970 at the school.
Speer said his comedic style is an easy outgrowth of the way his family members deal with each other.
“It's the way my friends and I socialize,” he said.
Speer will attend the performance Saturday night.
“I'm anxious to see what it looks like up on its feet,” he said.
“It will be very surreal, looking at the kids on the stage where I started, saying the words I wrote in Chicago.”
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.