The new school year has brought a big change for Tooele Junior High School students: This year is the first year in more than 10 years that the school has had a drama department and put on a play.
Since the beginning of the school year, TJHS students have been rehearsing for their fall play titled “How the Rotten Pickle Gang Robbed the Bank…or Got Turned Into Jail Birds for Tryin.’” Julia Smoot, production director of the play and TJHS’s first drama teacher, said she grew up with theater and wanted other children to be able to experience the same things she did while growing up in a theater environment.
“I have been in shows since I was 11 and now that I’m a drama teacher, I wanted my students to have the same kind of experiences that I had in middle school,” Smoot said. “Being in plays in middle school helped me be prepared for high school plays and then I was able to get a scholarship because of it. The younger we can get them started, the better actors they can become.”
In order to fulfill a promise, Smoot chose for the students to perform “How the Rotten Pickle Gang Robbed the Bank.”
“I picked this particular play because my friend had written it,” she said. “She never got to see it performed, so I promised her that when I became a drama teacher that I was going to perform her show. This is a fulfillment of that promise.”
A total of around 30 seventh and eighth grade students are taking part in the production. Smoot said the play is about a little town full of people who are in love but don’t know it. There are two burglars who come into town and try to rob a bank, but by the end of the play, all of the couples who should be in love are in love and the villains get caught. The play was written as a western melodrama, so plenty of western background music will be heard during the performances.
“A melodrama has the background music to really bring out the dramatic aspects of the play,” Smoot said. “A melodrama is a typical story of good versus evil. There’s always a villain. There’s always a hero and a heroine. In a melodrama, there’s a conflict that has to be resolved in some kind of action-packed way.”
Smoot said she likes melodramas because it gives kids a chance to be big with their bodies.
“Usually they are so uncomfortable with their bodies and just kind of want to curl up, but in a melodrama, you can’t do that,” she said. “In a melodrama, you have to use your bodies and your voices. You have to be over the top and big. If kids can go over the top, you can always pull them back down. It’s hard to go the other way though.”
Another key part to the final production of a melodrama is the audience. The audience is invited to interact with the actors.
“The audience gets to warn the people on stage,” Smoot said. “They can boo the villains. They can cheer for the heroes. The audience can talk to the actors and that’s OK. My favorite part of a melodrama is that the audience is a part of it.”
With a total of six showings, “How the Rotten Pickle Gang Robbed the Bank” will run Nov. 5 through 10. Every showing will begin at 7 p.m. in the TJHS auditorium. The price for tickets is $5 for adults and $3 for children and students. A $1 off discount will be offered to students with an activity card and a family pass is available for $17.