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Acting out: PMHS Theatre Group performs “Orphan Trains”

family: Siblings were often separated after riding on the orphan trains.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

family: Siblings were often separated after riding on the orphan trains.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

“It’s got to do with putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing how far you can come to truly understand them. I like the empathy that comes from acting.”
– Christian Bale.

The actors involved in Picayune Memorial High School’s High Tide Productions recently put themselves in the shoes of orphans and adoptive parents during their production of “Orphan Trains.”
The play is based on the actual events spanning from 1853 and 1929.
According to pbs.org, the Children Aid Society was formed in 1853 and during those years, more than 100,000 children were sent via orphan trains from New York City to new homes in rustic western America.
In early December, the theatre group performed at the Mississippi Theater Association High School Festival held at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
High Tide Productions, along with Pearl River Central High School’s Blue Maskers Troupe, placed in the top four.
As a result, this weekend the young actors will participate in the statewide theatre festival at the Gertrude C. Ford Center at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Picayune’s Theatre Director Valerie Griggs said.
There will be eight schools competing and only two will advance to the Southeastern Theatre Conference.
Last weekend both schools performed their one-act plays for the community.
Mary Duffourc attended last Friday night’s performance to watch her granddaughter Alyssa Duffourc perform in Orphan Trains.
“I loved it all. It was wonderful and I really enjoyed the performances,” Duffourc said. “ The scene where my granddaughter was on stage with the other young orphan and they had to be split apart brought tears to my eyes. It was just great.”
Sheila LaFrance attended the performance to see her friend’s daughter perform.
“I thought it was beautiful,” LaFrance said. “I liked the story. This was my first time hearing about the orphan trains. One of my favorite parts of the play was listening to the children telling their individual stories about their experiences on the trains and with their new families.”
Picayune Memorial High School Senior Brianna Flores said this is her third year as a theater student. She plans to pursue theater and psychology at the University of Southern of Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
“I like acting because you can pour yourself into a role and transform,” Flores said. “A live show is wonderful and magical all on its own. It’s an honor to compete with the other schools and be a part of a group of people who are as dedicated as you are to the art.”
Flores said she has grown as an actor during her years in theater and learned many things including technique, staging, set design and stage-managment.
Senior Katy Griggs portrayed an elderly woman named Mattie Wrightman in “Orphan Trains” and said it’s important to bring societal issues to people’s attention.
“This really happened,” Griggs said. “It’s the cold hard truth. I enjoy performing and sharing someone’s story that didn’t get the chance to.”
Senior Jackson Ledford portrayed three characters in the play and said it was interesting and different to act in a docu-drama.
“Acting in a historical piece can be challenging,” Ledford said. “You can embellish a bit, but still have to stick to the truth. I love history and was super interested in this play. This theater troupe is a family unit. I’m humbled and blessed to be a part a part of this group and watching as we accomplish the steps as we look towards to possibly returning to the Southeastern Theatre Conference.”
Jackson Sauls, Jr., who is a junior at the high school, not only composed music for scenes in “Orphan Trains,” but also was in charge of the set design.
“It was a good experience for me to compose the music,” Sauls said. “Each of the orphans came from different ethnic backgrounds and I based some of the themes on Irish and Yiddish folks songs.”
Sauls said it was a challenge to build the sets.
“We didn’t want an actual train, so we constructed a spinning background with three triangles portraying three different backgrounds,” Sauls said. “This play was a challenge because the characters aren’t modern and we conducted a lot of research. It the end, we found ways to relate to the orphans and realized that we had more in common than we thought.”
Griggs said she is thankful to be given this opportunity to work with the students.
“I’m so proud we advanced to Oxford,” Griggs said. “They are a great group and very special to me.”