Helena High Thespians take “Lawyer”to the Thespian festival


Hernán Piñera


Connor Casne-Jones, Head Writer

Every year the annual Thespian Festival in Missoula Montana is filled with high schools performing their favorite plays. But one high school is different. Every year Helena High School takes a student written, student directed, and student acted play to the Thespian Festival. Sara Betz’s “Lawyer” will take center stage this weekend at the Thespian Festival. In Sara’s words it is “about a lawyer who had some donuts, was allergic to them, went into a coma, and during the coma, he dreams that he is a great lawyer, but in real life he’s dyslexic.” Sara Betz is a first-time playwright, Arianna Kent is a first-time director, and Christopher Duffey is a first-time stage manager. They are all also seniors. Despite their inexperience they were tasked to create a play suitable for this year’s Thespian Festival.


Sara Betz said she wrote this play to “prove I’m a better writer than my ex-boyfriend.” Betz is honored that her play was chosen to represent HHS this year at the Thespian Festival “I know there are a lot of other people that submitted plays for thespian festival, and to have mine chosen is really really cool,” said Betz, unfortunately, Betz is no longer involved in the production of her beloved play. She had some creative disagreements with the director Ariana Kent and thought it would be better if she stayed out of it. She said, “I wrote it to be a very fantastical play…” However, “It has taken a very serious tone.” But the show must go on, and it was up to Ariana Kent to interpret the script and get it ready for the Thespian Festival.


Ariana Kent is directing her first play on the biggest stage, the Thespian Festival. As director she is responsible for interpreting the script, casting actors, helping design sets and costumes, and getting the best performance out of the cast. Once the cast was set in stone, Kent needed to do some teambuilding with her cast. “Every cast is different. Some casts are already really good friends, some hate each other, so you have to force some teambuilding. Some casts are very professional and do not really care about one another which can also be detrimental to a show.” As director Kent needs to make sure the show is ready in time for the festival, and that’s not always going to make everyone happy. “I’ve had a few people that don’t like the style of directing that I use, but it’s a pretty professional environment and I don’t think anyone takes it incredibly personally.” A director can only do so much, without actors that truly believe in the project, a play can never live up to its full potential.


Melina Scott, head editor of the prestigious Nugget Newspaper, plays Gustavo in the play. Gustavo is the provider of the donuts that put the main character in a coma. He sports a thick Russian accent that Scott can seemingly switch into at will. “I’ve been practicing accents for a long time and my Russian accent is naturally very low,” which makes Gustavo being male no challenge for Scott. This will be her 4th time acting in a high school play, and she said working with a first-time director is “a very unique experience because you get to see them grow with you.” While Kent has had issues with others not liking her directing style, Scott says “as long as you work hard, she’s okay with you, but she gets along better with the people that memorize their lines, remember their blocking, and actually do their work, which is understandable.”


As set manager Chris Duffey is responsible for what the actors walk on, what the actors use, and what the scene revolves around in terms of the set. “The set is the concrete framework if you will, and the props, actors, and lighting are why you could live there,” Duffey said. He has worked on six sets but this is his first time in the set manager role. In his new role he worked closely with Dent, pitching set ideas, and interpreting her vision. “It’s a lot of accepting and balancing between the director and set manager” Duffey said. Because the show will take place in Missoula, Duffey had to keep the number of techs to a minimum, only taking 3 to Missoula with him. Duffey said it can be difficult to manage his techs because “you need to find a balance between coming off really rude and coming off way too nice. But I’m good friends with everyone in the run-in tech crew so it was easy to get along and just have them help me.” Duffey has been working on sets since he was a freshman, so as far as I can see this is a natural progression for him, and he is cherishing his role as set manager.


Mr. Holter, the theater teacher at Helena High School, is just as excited as anyone for the Thespian Festival. “About 20 years ago we brought our first student-directed, student-written show to the Thespian Festival. What happened was we had a student write a show and her friend said, I’d really like to direct that show. Can we give it a whirl? And now we really have a tradition of always doing student-written student-produced shows.” When asked about Sara’s motivation for writing her show he grinned and said, “The process lends itself to a little competition!”


If you would like to see “Lawyer” before the cast leaves for the Thespian Festival make sure to catch their showing at 7pm tonight at the HMS auditorium. There are also two showings after the festival next Thursday and Friday at 7pm, at the HHS Little Theatre.