Lee’s Summit West theater instructor Brad Rackers was in the mood to unnerve and spook people when he chose the first play of the school’s season.
Ghosts, gossip and dark secrets weave through Lee’s Summit West’s upcoming production of “The Uninvited.”
“I want this show to be a real ghost story,” Rackers said. “I want the audience to be immersed in the production, feeling nervous, and hopefully frightened by the characters’ experiences. These young actors are focused on figuring out how to really scare people, without the use of tactics that might be possible at something like a haunted house.”
The inaugural production of West’s 2018-19 theater season is a suspense-filled, psychological drama about a brother and sister who purchase a home in the English countryside, then discover it is plagued with paranormal events. The play’s subtle and not-so-subtle dangers, unwelcome guests and uncovered horrors keep the audience on a precipice of unknowns.
“I’ve had the script for ‘The Uninvited’ on my shelf for a long time and loved the story,” Rackers said. “This year, I decided I had the right mix of students for the show. I also knew it was something we could accomplish in the short rehearsal time we have at the start of the school year.”
“The Uninvited,” which runs Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, is followed by a diverse schedule of productions for the school’s season. The upcoming calendar includes children’s theater, musical comedy and Greek tragedy.
Rackers was intentional about both his students and the audience when selecting works for this year’s schedule.
“I’ve always tried to select a season that speaks to the world around us, exposes students to various types of theater, and is also entertaining to our audience. Our season also tries to incorporate four very different types of shows, so there’s something for everyone.”
For each season, Rackers selects one production that ties into a book or play English classes are reading that year. This allows students not only to experience live theater through material familiar to them, but gives them an opportunity to see those works as they were meant to be experienced, Rackers said. For the upcoming season, that production will be Sophocles’ tragedy, “Oedipus and Antigone.”
Musical productions will include “Play On,” a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The show features the music of Duke Ellington, with Shakespeare’s story reset in 1940s Harlem. This year, West will also be one of the first area high schools to produce and perform the popular musical comedy, “Mamma Mia!”
As teacher and director, Rackers has shared his vision of theater’s unique energy and joy with students and audiences for more than 15 years.
“Theater is truly a transformational artform,” said Rackers, who was named the 2017 Lee’s Summit R-7 Teacher of the Year. “Students are able to step outside of themselves to experience the lives of people who may be similar or totally different from themselves. It also allows an audience to experience places and times that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
“My students use theater as a place to express themselves, find a ‘family,’ translate their emotions and passions to an audience, and just have fun.”
Sophomore Emily Lyon, who plays Mary Meredith in “The Uninvited,” has found this fulfillment in theater and performance.
“Being in theater makes you feel ‘bigger than’because it’s bigger than you, and you’re part of a greater community,” she said.
Looking ahead, Lyon has her heart set on Hollywood and a film career. Lyon’s fellow actor, junior Danny Gage,has his eyes on the lights and stages of Broadway.
“Being in this play is a big moment in life,” said Gage, who plays role of Max Hilliard.