A huge pirate ship! Bad-tempered buccaneers! A coming-of-age story on the high seas! Audiences will delight in Northeast State Theater’s production of the swashbuckling adventure play Treasure Island when it opens for two weekend production runs in April.
Directed by Elizabeth McKnight Sloan, the production is based from Ara Watson’s stage adaptation of the beloved novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island unfolds as a “memory play” with Jim Hawkins recounting his adventure on the high seas as an adolescent.
“I have asked a lot of our students and actors, and they have responded,” says Sloan, director of the Northeast State Theater Department. “The memory play aspect and Jim’s story make the production very fluid in staging. The lighting effects add a sharp character element to each scene.”
The actors take on a variety of English dialects from Cockney to Estuary to West Country. The actors also face numerous scene settings, and several on-stage battles between the pirates.
“Learning dialects comes down to repetition,” says Sloan. “It pays to have a good ear but listening and repeating the dialects trains the actor to pick up the voice with their character.”
The set construction work includes the pirate ship, a skull-shaped cave, and a boarding house where Jim recounts his story. The action takes places in 15 different locations over 33 scenes. The pace switches up from fast action to deliberate mystery as Jim’s recollections play out for the audience. For Sloan, as well as the cast and crew, Treasure Island represents a wistful remembrance of childhood.
“The play is about adventure,” she says. “The kind of adventure you dream about as a child.”
Handling the lighting design is Will Lambert, a Theater major at Northeast State, who assisted with lighting in last fall’s production of Night of the Living Dead. The lighting design exists as another character framing each scene in excitement, fear, or dream like sequences.
“Every scene has its own identity that frames the setting,” says Lambert. “Lighting enhances the mood during the play and enhances the locations where the story takes place.”
Lambert earned his stripes as assistant lighting director in last fall’s Night of the Living Dead production. He also competed in the David Weiss Competition Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in February. His design of the play Killer Joe received praise from competitors and judges alike.
Richard Jackson plays the dual role of “Jim Hawkins” as an adolescent character and his older self, narrating the play and engaging the audience. He said the challenge came portraying a young man recalling the memories of his adventurous childhood.
“The double role is a challenge, and I love it,” says Jackson, a first-year Business major at Northeast State. “Being a young man, I can still relate to those young days but being older I’ve learned quite a bit that I can share.”
Young Jim finds himself in an adventure seeking buried treasure on a mysterious island. A still-young-but-wiser Jim the narrator recalls the events the thrilled and terrified him. Jackson is following up this role in Treasure Island after his performance as “Ben” in Living Dead.
“I think about why Jim is retelling this story to his comrades and why it is important,” Jackson says. “You want to tell the story and bridge the time between the young boy and young man.”
The technical crew spent long hours to hammer, paint, and design the set. Several students and volunteers have spent dozens of hours building the pirate ship – complete with barnacles and starfish – as well as the boarding house.
“This is without a doubt the largest stage production we’ve ever done,” said Brad McKenzie, the play’s technical director and adjunct Theater instructor at Northeast State. “We’ve got the pirate ship, special effects galore, and a lot of stage action.”
Bob Dotson plays the iconic “Long John Silver,” a legendary pirate who befriends Jim but may not be all he seems. Justin Price plays “Billy Bones” a mysterious pirate with a secret to hide.
“He’s a rough but lovable kind of crazy uncle,” said Price, a double major in Pre-Engineering and Theater at Northeast State. “He possesses something that all the other pirates are after.”
The pirates and others engage in “fight call” rehearsals to choreograph the sword fights and sea battles. The characters use rapiers – long spindle-blade swords – to poke and perforate their quarry.
McKenzie recruited Timothy Kent to choreograph combat scenes. Kent is director of Theater at Walters State Community College and certified in stage combat choreography.
The show will run for two successive weekends of April 4-7 and April 12-14. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m., April 4-6 and April 12 and 13. Matinee performances begin at 2 p.m., April 6-7 and April 12-14.
Tickets are $10 general admission. Performances are free to current Northeast State students, but they must pick up tickets at the box office. Tickets can be purchased online now at www.NortheastState.edu or at the theater’s box office one hour prior to the show. The house opens 30 minutes before show time.
All shows will be held in the Wellmont Regional Performing Arts Center Theater on the College’s main campus at Blountville, adjacent to Tri-Cities Regional Airport. The play is being presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York. For more information, contact 423.354.2479, e-mail emsloan@NortheastState.edu.
Audiences will enjoy being swept back into their own childhood memories when the world seemed big and filled with possibilities. Price shares the sentiment that likely fuels the longings of many theater aficionados.
“It is just nice to be someone else for a while,” he says. “It is the joy of theater – to go live a life and be anyone you want to be at any time.”