This semester, NAU theatre department takes on “The Yellow Boat,” a tragic yet hopeful story where the lead actor is none other than a 21-year-old female playing an 8-year-old boy. College students playing parents and young children in itself may pose a challenge. On top of that are the obstacles of relaying an emotional story, small but intricate set pieces and trying to hold the attention of young school students.
“The Yellow Boat” is based on playwright David Saar’s son and depicts a young boy who is dying from an AIDS-related disease. Despite his illness, the boy is moved to paint and draw colorful awe-inspiring visuals through pain, according to a synopsis from Dramatic Publishing.
Senior Kacie Debevc will play Benjamin, a talented but sick young boy. Debevc said she is excited and ready for the challenge that this role brings, and the story that comes with it.
“Playing an 8-year-old boy is definitely a transformative challenge, but just being able to tell his story in this space and being able to perform it in front of kids and families makes me ready for the challenge,” Debevc said. “I think what is super interesting about this play is how we’re designing it. Although I am a transformative character, this play transforms itself throughout the entire time we are telling the story.’’
Debevc said the play comes to life and is as vivid as an 8-year-old’s imagination. The play is minimal with few pieces because the troupe will travel with it, but they still have many that bring the story to life, such as a boat, a medical room and Benjamin’s home.
“This play is constantly transforming with color,” Debevc said. “We’re working as an ensemble together to build this set and to create this story.”
Senior Ella Johnson taped boxes as the actors started to trickle in before a rehearsal. Johnson is the stage manager and has been engaged with the show long before the actors were even cast. The production staff worked on the show before the school year began.
“The first production meeting was a week before school started, and then we hit the ground running,” Johnson said. “The design team already had it designed when we got to school. We only have a month process, since it’s a smaller show that only runs for about an hour.”
Johnson said the play is an Arizona story and represents a pivotal point in the state’s medical history.
According to an article on Healthline, a health information website, the original consensus surrounding the AIDS epidemic was that only certain groups were at risk for the disease. Gay men were most often associated with AIDS, so when cases like Benjamin’s came up in the medical field, they were considered shocking and opened people’s eyes to the fact that the disease wasn’t limited to sexual transmission.
According to Los Angeles Times, Benjamin had hemophilia, meaning his blood did not clot normally. He contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.
With such a short rehearsal schedule, each day has to count. Senior Emily Wood will play Benjamin’s mother. She said their process is not quite like it has been with other plays.
“This [show] is a little different because we are touring it, so the rehearsal process is about three to four weeks shorter than it normally is,” Wood said.
Emily explained that the reason for choosing this show was that all the plays that will be performed this year are retellings of other stories. The performance after “The Yellow Boat” will be called “Playing with Fire,” which is a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. “The Yellow Boat” is a retelling of Benjamin’s story through his father’s eyes.
Director Robert Yowell walked in just as a rehearsal was about to start. Yowell said that while the show has dark elements, it is brighter than one might expect.
“It is a celebration of one’s life,” Yowell said. “It is playful, not a downer.”
If all goes right, “The Yellow Boat” will hopefully be able to live up to Benjamin’s story. Students who are interested can get tickets now at the NAU Central Ticket Office website, or in the performing arts building.