Up On “On The Town”
The cast of high-schoolers that performed in this year’s Santa Barbara High School musical “On The Town” was nothing short of remarkable. It is difficult to point out one outstanding performance when everybody was so darned good. The comic timing, the duo dancing and singing, the snappy dialogue, the sets, the jazz ensemble headed up by the talented Richard Weiss, all were funny, polished, and professional. There were no embarrassing silences; everyone knew their lines… always. The music came in and out precisely on cue, and both the medley at the beginning of the show and the rendition of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” before the second act were, for such young musicians, implausibly good.
The sets were simple and sophisticated: a skyline of Manhattan center stage behind a gate with barbed wire on top (the Navy Yard); to the right, a giant cutout of the Chrysler Building, complete with working revolving doors; later, the “stage” onstage dressed as three different nightclubs; the “moving” subway cars complete with garbage under the seats; to the left on steel girders, like a building under construction, was the jazz orchestra, headed up on one level at the piano by Richard Weiss and the reed section; above that on a higher level, the horn section. Ingenious.
Director Otto Layman outdid himself with this elaborate production and deserves kudos for coordinating a group of nearly fifty high-schoolers – most with limited stage experience (though there were exceptions) – and turning them into a cadre of disciplined stage performers.
By Steven Libowitz
Fifteen, Going on 11
Landing the lead in your high school play might be a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for most 11th graders, but for Carlin Traxler, who stars as Iris in Santa Barbara High School’s fall production of “Still Life with Iris,” performing on center stage is nothing new.
Carlin, who is the daughter of Montecito filmmaker Steve Traxler (co-producer of “Legally Blonde II” and “Windtalkers”), was a fixture at the now-defunct Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, where she played Gretl von Trapp in the “Sound of Music,” the daughter in “The King and I” and Mimi in “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
“I was in second grade and there I was acting several nights a week, staying up to midnight after the shows were over,” Carlin said, moments before bounding on stage to join the cast of 45 in a full dress rehearsal a week before opening night.
Iris is the heart and soul of “Still Life,” a fantasy adventure story of an 11-year-old girl who lives in the magical land of Nocturno, where workers toil at night to make the things we enjoy in the daytime. In their world, memories aren’t part of people’s minds but instead reside in their jackets, called “PastCoats.” Iris is taken from her family and has her coat removed, leaving a lone button as all that remains from her past. With that single clue, Iris strives to recover her past and find her way home.
Despite her full family life, Carlin said she had no difficulty connecting to the role.
“There are some tender moments,” she says. “I think about what if I were taken away from my mom and that does get me a little teary-eyed. I can understand the feeling.”
Much more difficult for Carlin, at least at first, was having to shave five-plus years off her age, something no teenager wants to do.
“When I first read it, I was a little skeptical – it seemed like it was such a young girl’s play, and the language is really young,” she says. “Having to become a little kid is the hardest part for me, because in our society, at least at my age, everybody wants to be older than they are.”
Director Otto Layman, who teaches theater at the high school, says Carlin is a natural fit in the role. “In life you get three minutes to audition, but I see these kids every day,” Layman explains. “So I know she has the emotional range for it, to play very young and to grow in the role. There’s an enormous transformation, a huge learning curve in this emotionally complicated script.”
Indeed, the set and production of “Still Life” are as rich as the writing. The play – which is the only one written for children ever to win a Best American Play Award from the Kennedy Center – is a collaboration between author Steven Dietz (“God’s Country”), stage magician Steffan Soule and illustrator Cooper Edens. Despite the expense, Layman arranged for Soule himself to spend more than a week with the young actors training them in the magic portions of the show, which includes lots of sleight of hand and a very formidable-looking lightening machine.
“We’re ambitious, always pushing the envelope,” Layman says. “I could have settled for a cheesy high school show but I realize that ninety-nine percent of the kids won’t go on and act again, so I want them to remember this always.”
Carlin, however, is aiming to be part of that other one percent.
“I would love to be an actress,” she said. “I feel so complete on stage. I’ll do anything in front of people, sing or dance or whatever. I don’t worry about making a fool of myself, I don’t care how many people are watching or if there are cameras on me. I just do it. It’s in my blood. So I definitely want to pursue it and I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
...on a side note I would just like to complement you on the positive environment you foster with the kids. Blake only had positive things to say about you and the way the entire cast encouraged each other during Alice and Wonderland. This was one of the main reasons he chose SBHS because of things people said about you and how supportive your casts are of one another. Blake has been in many other productions and after his experience with you he said he was so happy to chose SBHS. He said the kids are nice to each other, supportive, and there was no behind the scenes drama.
Thank you so much for promoting this positive energy!!!
Thank you so much for the tickets to the play [Alice in Wonderland] last night. Such a generous thing for you to do. I was, frankly, overwhelmed with the professionalism of the entire thing. The sets and costumes were so whimsical and clever...equal to any adult play I have been to--and the students--oh my! I was most fascinated by the accents and the diction. Don't know how Otto gets every single one of those kids to speak out like that.
The twists and turns of the plot were incredible...