By Grace Fields, Knightly News online editor
Thomas Dale’s Theatre Department has been very successful in this year’s VHSL competition.
Their performance of The Roach, a student written play by seniors Myles Fields and Rachel Lesniak, has made it through Super Regionals at Colonial Forge of the VHSL competition and will soon be headed to their States in Charlottesville on March 3.
I was able to sit down with the talented cast of The Roach for an interview and after, they kindly let me sit through their rehearsals that same day.
KNews: What is The Roach?
Myles Fields: The Roach is about two girls who happen to come across a comic book, which brings them into the world of The Roach, which starts in Larville, and the Roach is a menacing human-sized creature that terrorizes and kills people.
KNews: What was the rehearsal process like?
Emerson Pessarra: It was a lot of developing our characters.
Shannon Boerner: We had to put in a lot of work because we had a lot of snow interruptions, but when we did get back we got right back into it. We were all memorized and stuff. It was generally a pretty positive atmosphere.
Shannon Cassano: Yeah, I was impressed with you guys being off-book by the deadline. That doesn’t really happen that often. That’s why I put the deadline so far away, but I think that helped a lot with our rehearsal process because you didn’t have the scripts in your hand and we had plenty of time to work on our characters.
Cullen Nettleton: It was a lot of redoing things just to get it just right which I think is especially important with a comedy, the comedic timing and stuff. And it was working on that and continuing to get that exactly right.
Gregory Wells: Yes it was really repetitive, yes it was kind of long, but overall it was a lot of fun. Everybody gets together and kind of works towards the same goals, just a lot of fun.
Corey Norman: It was a lot of teamwork building, it was very immersive between the cast and the crew; when we would do warm ups, everybody would be involved. We did a lot of ensemble exercises to get that cast chemistry just right, and it was very pleasurable.
Laviana Ortiz: I think us being, and getting, as close as we all are made it a lot easier for us to just having to keep running things. We’re spending so much time with all these people and I think that one of the reasons why we aren’t all at each other’s throats is because we’re all kind of with each other, and I feel like we’ve made a lot more friendships and relationships with this.
KNews: What do you all hope to achieve with The Roach?
Shannon Cassano: Winning states.
Myles Fields: I mean, the main goal for The Roach was to win states, just for VHSL purposes. Going to states, it’s a really good thing because it’s my first year that I’ve been here that we’ve gone to states. It’s a really fun piece and I’m glad that people enjoy it and that it’s taking us to states.
KNews: Here are a few questions for you, Myles. What inspired you to write The Roach?
Myles Fields: I honestly don’t know where I got the idea from. I think I saw a Youtube video of some bug invaded some house and that was funny, and I was like, “hey, what bug don’t people like the most? A roach! Haha! What if, y’know, it was human-sized? Haha!” But, besides that, it just developed along the way.
KNews: Did you ever think your script would be used in the VHSL competition?
Myles Fields: No, I did not.
KNews: What differences did you have to make to the old script when writing the VHSL one?
Myles Fields: I had to make it longer to meet the qualifications for a play for VHSL. My first idea, I wanted to make this flashback idea of how the Roach got big and stuff. But, when I was brainstorming with Corey and Rachel, we were trying to figure out what we should do, and Corey actually came up with the comic book idea. Then, after that, we just thought that was really cool and a bunch of ideas just started coming up and forming as we started to write and we just added all this stuff that’s in there now.
KNews: Now I’m going to ask Ms. Cassano a few questions. How does it feel working with a student director?
Shannon Cassano: It’s been pretty awesome. We always have a co-director, pretty much, and I like that idea because it teaches the students how to direct and what to look for and they have so many ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of. Myles had tons of ideas that I didn’t think of. Also, it’s nice because he took over quite a bit and he’s in charge for the competitions because I can’t do anything, that’s part of the rules, so it’s nice that I know that I can depend on Myles if I have to step out or do something. I know that the show is gonna be in good hands because of him.
KNews: What made you choose The Roach for the VHSL competition?
Shannon Cassano: The script I had originally picked, the way I wanted to direct it, I did not get permission to do so I decided to scrap that idea. And I was brainstorming with Ms. Roquemore and I said, “well, what if we do The Roach,” because the Virginia Theatre Association, which is another competition we go to, they wanted to do The Roach but ended up not doing it. So, I decided that we should take it to the competition and I chose it.
KNews: What do you hope the students in this production learn throughout this experience?
Shannon Cassano: I think it’s been fun for them to learn comedy, since this year we’ve had a lot of serious plays, so it’s nice to take a break from that as well as having a great mix between Specialty Center and Non-Specialty Center and 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade which is nice because it expands our community and helps us grow as a department.
KNews: Myles, what would you describe your directing style as?
Myles Fields: Probably spontaneous because there were a lot of times where I just made up ideas and changes on the spot and there were times where I just let other students contribute and create ideas based on their characters.
KNews: Is this the first time you’ve directed something?
Myles Fields: No, I directed the original Roach before this version.
KNews: These next questions are for the cast. Why did you decide to audition to be in The Roach?
Laviana Ortiz: The reason that I auditioned was because this is the first year that it was opened up to Non-Specialty Center students, and Ms. Cassano kind of convinced me that she thought I would be good in it. Last school year, I remember seeing The Roach and thinking that it was the funniest thing ever. And last year I didn’t know Myles, or Corey, or any of the seniors this year, and I was obsessed with them so I was like, “oh my gosh, I may get to work with them, that’s so cool!”
Emerson Pessarra: Comedy is one of the types of theater that I’m better at and there’s not a lot of chances just to do plays, especially funny ones. Usually they’re musicals and if it is a play it’s usually more serious, so I was like, “here’s my shot!”
Gregory Wells: I saw the poster across the hall from 512 on the board that was asking for signups and stuff like that, and I looked at the title and was like, “The Roach..? Alright, maybe the R stands for something, the O stands for something, and so on.” And then Ms Cassano, who is my first period teacher, started to explain it to me and I wish I could sit here and say that I signed up because I wanted to do it, but I signed up because every single morning I got a lecture from the one and only Ms Cassano about signing up. But honestly, I did because this is one of the funniest plays I’ve ever been in in my life.
Corey Norman: When I heard that we were doing The Roach, I was like, “fam, now I have to be in it.” I also played Kyle in the original Roach and I just loved the role, and the play, and the story so much. I thought it was hilarious because I’m black, and black people don’t like roaches, and I connected to the story because roaches are disgusting. I just really felt the need to audition.
KNews: How does it feel making it to states?
Shannon Boerner: Me, Corey, Sophi, and Saquina have been in every show we could be in up to this date. And the first VHSL we did was really, really, really bad. We only made it on to the second round because there weren’t enough people to eliminate, so there’s that kind of thing going on. So, the fact that we’ve grown so much and now we’re going on to States, we’ve got first place in this last competition, means a lot because of all the personal growth that we’ve gone through.
Consuela Hood: Even though I’m not an actor, I think it’s really cool to see how far The Roach has come, especially from last year. Seeing that it got first place just gives everyone a sense of pride, so to speak.
KNews: How do you get into character while onstage?
Laviana Ortiz: Getting in character, I feel like for me, it’s a bit easier than some of the other characters because I’m a stereotypical 11 year old girl. So, I just kind of think back to who I was when I was 11. I don’t know about y’all, but… Justin Bieber… One Direction.
Sakina Mustafa: For me, I just get into that suit and I transform.
Corey Norman: The way I get into character is I basically tell myself the things that my character tells himself in his head like, “I’m hood rich,” even though I’m almost positive that where they live is not the hood. Kyle tells himself that he is; one, hood rich; two, fly; and he is three, irresistible. And I fill my head with overwhelming confidence just because I feel like that’s what Kyle would do.
Daniel Billings: What I do is I breathe in as Daniel and when I breathe out I’m my character, I am Devonte. I am no longer Daniel, I am my character, this is real, and this is happening.
Sophia Anthony: I’m playing another kind of stereotype character, I’m the mean mom, so I think of, “what is the most annoying thing I can possibly do? How do I become the epitome of nagging?” And I embody it with everything that I can.
While watching the cast rehearse, I saw a lot of teamwork and friendship involved. You can tell that this cast loves doing what they do and love doing it with each other which helps them do what they do best: act. The cast chemistry is all around fantastic and the atmosphere is positive. Also, based what I have seen, this show is absolutely hilarious and I hope that they make it past States! Good luck to everyone in The Roach!