The three-night debut of “Rosie” by the Soldotna High School drama program will be a unique experience for all, even the cast.
That is because the play script was written by Soldotna’s own Nathan Erfurth, the production’s technical director, who has kept the true author of the work under wraps to all but his own wife, play director Sara Erfurth.
Since production and rehearsal began in January, the Erfurth’s kept the true identity of the playwright hidden from their own students, who were told that the writer was a “friend of” Sara’s. Nathan said they used the pseudonym “Arthur Davis” to foil any efforts to discover the true author.
It has led to a long vow of silence for Nathan, who has only allowed himself to take up his normal duties as tech director for the show, while Sara has led the way in producing and directing the performance.
“It’s strange because I had in my head what it was going to sound like,” he said. “I just gave her the script and do what you want with it.”
As to why they decided to keep it secret in the first place? The story goes back to November when Sara was searching for a spring production for the SoHi theatre program to showcase, but was having difficulty in finding a play that would also give licensing permission for making changes to the script that would fit a high school-friendly cast and audience, and one that had plenty of female characters to reward the heavy-female talent that SoHi’s program features.
“It was kind of out of necessity,” Nathan said. “We had a heck of a time finding that, so I just said to (heck) with it.”
“He’s like, ‘Well what if I just write one?’,” said Sara. “This is a different style of writing for him, and we decided a history play would be fun. This would be a really interesting angle, more from the civilian side.”
Erfurth said he began writing the script in November, but did most of the work in a week before the semester started. As a SoHi history teacher, Erfurth even studied about how World War II era aircraft bombers like the B-17F were designed and how factories were laid out.
Erfurth said the reason she and Nathan did not unveil the true writer behind the show was because they didn’t want to influence the students’ approach to how it should be done. The Erfurth’s said they would break the news to the cast before opening night, likely before Wednesday’s rehearsal.
With the cat out of the bag, the couple said they expect a big opening night tonight at 7 p.m. Each evening will feature two productions — “Rosie” follows on the heels of “The Audition,” a one-act production produced entirely by students, which begins at 6 p.m. each evening.
Sara Erfurth said “Rosie” was written as a historical drama with bits of comedic elements. SoHi senior Katie Schwartz dons the role of “Rosie the Riveter,” the iconic women’s factory worker who graced the popular posters of World War II’s “We Can Do It!” campaign.
“She was a good symbol of the women’s war efforts,” Erfurth said. “It’s a story that I think is fun to explore, what kind of person might she have been and how would this have played out in the factories?”
In a period of time that saw Americans supporting the war effort and patriotism from home, Erfurth said it seemed to be a very fitting period to focus on.
“It’s a very big turning point in history, at least socially,” she said.
Schwartz, in only her second full production acting with the SoHi drama program, takes on her biggest role yet and said the pressure to be perfect is on her, but she remains hopeful of living up to the title character.
“For me it’s not just a school thing,” Schwartz said. “I care about it a lot. I put a lot of energy into it.”
For two years, Schwartz worked on the SoHi set crew, but Erfurth said she found Schwartz during a casting last year before “Chicago,” where Schwartz had a smaller role.
“When she auditioned, I was shocked,” Erfurth said. “It was a really pleasant surprise, she’s surpassed expectations. She has this incredible ability to convey both emotion and restraint, and that’s a rare balance to find in young actors.”
After getting through her initial nerves, Schwartz said she has settled into her new stage persona.
“I was a little too afraid to put myself out there,” Schwartz said. “But this is my senior year, so I thought go crazy, why not?”
The story follows Rosie as she looks for work in the American World War II efforts. She finds it in a factory building bomber planes, and experiences the hardships of entering a new workforce of women with her new co-workers.
Leader of the female crew is “Marge,” a bossy manager brought to life by SoHi senior Allison Towell, who is in her sixth production as a member of the theater department. Towell said her role has forced her to step outside her comfort zone, but it’s given her the challenges she’s needed.
“I don’t like yelling at people,” Towell said, who added that the show has been most enjoyable with the talented peers she has worked with.
“Being able to imagine ourselves in this time(frame) and getting the feel of being in a factory has been cool,” Towell said. “And building the plane is pretty cool, too.”
One of the most impressive props, the metal-framed plane, sits on stage as a life-size skeleton frame of a WWII-era bomber plane, and the female working crew is regularly seen constructing it.
Observing all this is another stage veteran, SoHi senior Daniel Mitzel, who takes on the role of “Richard” the company manager. Mitzel is in his seventh play at SoHi said this is one of his largest roles.
“For me it’s (about) trying to get into the mindset of the time,” Mitzel said. “That took a while to do.”
Mitzel complements the other major male character of the show, “Jack” the Inspector, played by junior Jaron Swanson. Swanson’s antagonistic persona unveils itself when he attempts to put the moves on Rosie while on a routine inspection of the plant, which adds to the outdated view that women don’t belong in the workforce.
Prior to “Rosie” beginning at 7 p.m., “The Audition” will feature an all-student led directing core, led by Soldotna senior Emilie Grimes.
The play highlights the struggles of a group of students auditioning for a high school chorus line in a theater program, and focuses on the personal stories of the actors and how theater helps them through their struggles.
Grimes started working in the SoHi props department her sophomore year, then became head of props as a junior and took on an assistant director role for SoHi’s production of “Chicago” last fall, giving her experience of trying to make it up the ladder of stage production.
Grimes said Erfurth helped her achieve her current status as director for “The Audition.”
“She helped me a lot when I was her assistant director last semester,” Grimes said. “She saw my potential and I really wanted to learn, and she offered me this position.”
“Rosie” and “The Audition” open tonight at 6 p.m. at the Soldotna High School Theater.
This story has been updated from an earlier version correcting the type of World War II era planes that play writer Nathan Erfurth studied in preparing the set.