Benicia Students Offer Up Big Drama And Laughs At Mystery Dinner Theater
For the first time, drama students from all Benicia schools are performing together for the hilarious dinner theater production of Virgil’s Wedding, a comical farce that will make you feel like you’re an invited guest at a friend’s big, fat Greek wedding.
The romantic comedy will take place in the southern town of Lickskillit, USA, otherwise known as Benicia Middle School (BMS). (Hint: the production is similar to the popular Broadway comedy Tony n’ Tina's Wedding). The wedding feast, served by young actors, will include a three course southern meal of pulled pork or fried chicken, smoky mac n’ cheese, apple slaw, squash, black-eyed peas, cornbread with honey butter and sweet tea and peach-berry cobbler for dessert. Guests will enjoy an old-fashioned barn dance, interactive games, and more.
But it’s more than just a good time. The collaborative production marks a movement to unite all school drama departments, and raise support and awareness for theater arts education. Funds from this year’s production will help replace the middle school drama department’s long broken sound system and stage lights. “The production will not only showcase young artists, but they get to do something with their art that is helpful to the community,” says Nikki Tillotson, the production’s director. “They are playing it forward.”
Top performers from Benicia High School’s (BHS) improv team, BMS’s drama program, and the afterschool drama clubs at all four elementary schools will audition for their parts. While the advanced students will take the leading roles, elementary school actors will wait on tables and be planted in the audience.
“When all age groups work together in an ensemble, everyone learns from each other. The older actors learn patience; it humbles them. They learn that no one is more important, and if the other actors look good, they all look good,” says Nikki. “These are skills that help at work, in marriage, and in all relationships.”
Nikki is a BHS drama department alumni with certificates in drama from Solano Community College and the esteemed Actors Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco. Passionate about the benefits of theater arts for children, Nikki started an ensemble in her backyard when her daughter was in kindergarten. In 2008 she opened Flying Monkey Theatre Arts, and now directs the after school drama clubs at all four elementary schools. She’s also the master painter for the high school drama department, and this year she launched the first ever after school middle school drama club.
Nathan Day, the new director of the drama department at BHS, studied with Nikki at Solano Community College and sees the growing collaboration as the perfect pathway to his more advanced drama studies. “The support I have behind me from Nikki and Cathy and their programs allows me to challenge my students in ways that don't exist elsewhere, ” he says.
Cathy Wright has been teaching drama at the middle school since 1992, and believes the collaboration makes sense for the students, building their communication skills and confidence in a cohesive way, and creating a theater-friendly culture in our district.
In a way, Virgil’s Wedding celebrates the marriage of these three drama teachers and their aligned belief that theater arts education enriches all of our lives.
What: Virgil’s Wedding
Who: Benicia Unified Performers
Where: Benicia Middle School
When: May 5 & 6 at 6pm, May 7 at 2pm