RHMS Help Desk uses humor to entertain and teach
Rocky Heights Middle School (RHMS) produces two plays a year; the fall performance this year was the comedy Help Desk by Don Zolidis. When choosing a play, the performing arts department has a general rubric they use: shows with as large a cast as possible so more students can participate; running time of around 80 minutes or less; a show that does not require an intermission, plus a variety of genres (drama, comedy, musicals, etc).
Help Desk had nearly 100 students involved, with 39 students in cast and another 58 participating in show management, lights, sounds, publicity, props, paint crew and costumes. Rehearsals ran about two hours a day, four days a week for two months culminating in three audience performances.
The premise of the play is “all about all the characters that exist on the other end of the phone when you call a company and speak with a representative. The people that are calling in also have their own neuroses and, in the end, we learn that we should be kind to everyone because you don’t know what anyone is going through in their own lives,” explained Geoff Whitesell, RHMS drama teacher.
Zolidis, a former middle school teacher, captured and created characters that middle school-aged thespians can portray well. Whitesell said students loved learning and perfecting comedic timing and “creating modern-day office characters and the crazy people that call into the help desk.”
Besides having fun and learning about live performance work, students gained confidence and became part of the RHMS performing arts department family.
“It’s important to me that all students feel like they are a part of something. Even though they go to an amazing school, it makes middle school a little better, hopefully,” Whitesell added.
Students and staff alike are continually amazed at the community support they see for performances. Whitesell said they averaged more than 1,000 audience members over the course of three shows. That amazing support holds true for most performances – something kind of rare for a middle school drama department.
More important than audience numbers are the life lessons and skills that the students learned while participating in rehearsals and live performances. Casting is done across all three grades, sixth through eighth, and based on merit, not age or previous experience.
It is empowering for students to realize they can do something new or scary – something they did not think they could do. Whitesell summed up the performing arts experience, “I enjoy seeing them have fun. I love teaching them that theater can teach us so much about real-world skills.”
By Celeste McNeil; photos courtesy of Kendall McClarran