Eighth-graders at Prairie Trail Middle School in Olathe are producing a show of support — literally.
They are presenting a play in honor of fellow student 11-year-old Blake Lehmkuhl.
Cast in their roles about a month ago, 30 theater students are learning their lines and staying after school to practice for the May 12 show.
But they’re not acting when it comes to caring about their sixth-grade friend.
“Blake was in an accident and we knew he was going through a lot while recovering,” said Evan Wohlenhaus, 14. “We want to help kids like him who are going through similar things.”
The show not only honors Blake but also benefits Children’s Mercy Hospital, where Blake had been a patient.
The last time many of them saw Blake was the day before the boating accident that changed his life in November of 2015.
Blake was in a school play, “A Seussified Christmas Carol.”
“One minute they’re acting with him on stage and the next minute, he’s in the hospital in a traumatic way,” said Dana Davis, Prairie Trail theater teacher.
Blake suffered a severe brain injury in a boat-on-boat collision at Lake of the Ozarks, explained his mother, Annie Martin. He was in a hospital in Columbia for 12 days, five of those days in a coma.
He was then taken by ambulance to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, where he was hospitalized for seven weeks on the rehabilitation floor. The brain injury caused a stroke in the center of his brain and has impaired movement on his left side.
Blake’s recovery involves three full days at the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City and two two-hour days a week at Prairie Trail. April 19 was his first day back at school since the Christmas play.
And he was able to attend his favorite class — theater.
While Blake was hospitalized, his schoolmates sent cards, a poster and get-well wishes to him.
But they wanted to do more.
Yet, they’re young teenagers. What could they do?
They knew they didn’t have money to donate but they did have time and energy and they recalled how much Blake enjoyed his speaking role and appearance on stage earlier in the year.
“We knew him because he was in a play with us first semester,” said Amber Morgan, 14, an eighth-grader.
A plot was hatched: The students would rally for Blake’s recovery with their own special production.
“These kids feel they have the power to help through this play,” Davis said.
Evan recommended “The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time,” a comedy about relationships ending in unexpected ways.
In one scene, for example, a boy and girl marvel at how much they have in common and what a good match they are. They take turns yelling out things they both like. Both of them know that the girl is preparing to leave for a month in England. When her boyfriend calls out the topic “the first thing you’re going to do when you get there,” the girl says, “Break up with you.”
Evan plays the boyfriend in this breakup. He plays two other roles too, including a Civil War breakup.
The play opens in modern times with a boy ending a relationship with a girlfriend. She wails that her breakup is the worst one ever.
Not so, says a narrator who suddenly appears to tell her that throughout history, there have been far worse breakups than hers. They then embark on a tour of breakups from caveman days to modern times.
Blake will be in the audience and is looking forward to the comedy.
“It feels good to laugh,” Blake said in a telephone interview.
Blake talks enthusiastically about school and the therapy helping him regain use of his left side.
Blake even jokes with his mother: “He said to me one day, ‘You have a worse memory than I do and you don’t even have a brain injury,’ ” Martin recalled.
Amber, who is directing the play, said the benefit has double meaning for her.
“Children’s Mercy saved my sister’s life,” she said. Her sister has a rare genetic disorder, she said, that can be life-threatening at times.
The theater teacher has been working with Megan Stock, assistant director of community engagement and events at Children’s Mercy, to promote the show.
“As a non-profit hospital, we are always grateful to those in the community who do more for our patients and families especially when our area students are the ones leading the effort,” Stock said. “The students at Prairie Trail Middle School are honoring a classmate with this special performance and we’re so appreciative that they are including Children’s Mercy.”
The benefit, Blake said “is a great way to help kids with brain injuries. I feel honored to be the person they’re doing it for.”
“The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time”: 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, in the auditorium of Prairie Trail Middle School, 21600 W. 107th St. in Olathe. Tickets are $3 at the door.
The show is a benefit for Children’s Mercy Hospital, presented in honor of Prairie Trail Middle School student Blake Lehmkuhl.