Becoming Houdini: PMHS theater students learn magic

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

an illusion: PMHS drama students learned how to perform magic tricks in preparation for the play.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

an illusion: PMHS drama students learned how to perform magic tricks in preparation for the play.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

There’s magic in the air at Picayune Memorial High School’s Auditorium as drama students prepare for their joint performance of “A Night of One Acts” with Pearl River Central High School.
This year, students are learning the skills utilized by illusionist Harry Houdini in the early 1920s to perform in the play “The Last Illusion,” by Dwayne Craft of Madison, Alabama.
The play is only a couple of years old, PMHS drama director William Rester said, and his group is one of the first to give it a go.
“I saw it performed at nationals and new I wanted to do something fun,” Rester said. “It’s the story of the life of Houdini and specifically references the Chinese water torture cell, the tank where Houdini hung upside down and escaped up until his last show.”
The show begins with Houdini in the tank, where he experiences flashbacks of his life, Rester said. That’s where the real magic begins.
The students perform two major stage illusions, the metamorphosis and the De Kolta Chair, he said.
The biggest challenge of this play was learning magic, Rester said.
Senior and third year theater student Jack Sauls portrays Houdini and he said it’s one of the most challenging roles he’s played.
“Houdini was over the top and that’s the complete opposite of me in real life,” Sauls said. “I’ve practiced a lot and researched magic for this role.”
As part of his role, Sauls is suspended upside down, which he said is not as bad he though it would be, because he calms himself down beforehand, but he said it feels really different reading lines while upside down.
Rester said he tries to teach the students something different each time and provide them with opportunities he didn’t have.
During his research for the play, Rester spoke with magicians, who are notoriously secretive, he said. He also visited the Houdini museum in New York City.
“It’s been neat to connect with magicians,” he said.
First year theater student Lucas Williams said the experience has been more than he thought it would be. He plays Houdini’s best friend in the play.
“There’s no limit to what you can do with acting,” Williams said. “During the 1920s, it was rare for black males to receive respect and that’s what Houdini gave his friend. To perform some of my monologues, I had to think about the saddest moments in life, to bring that sadness to my role, like it was real.”
Katy Fuller plays Bess Houdini and said she did some serious research in order to portray Houdini’s wife in the correct way. Fuller said she’s never experienced something as tragic as Bess did and she had to dig to discover what it would be like to lose someone.
“It’s been emotionally draining,” she said. “But it’s not all acting either, we are really doing magic acts.”
Chace Giadrosich portrays Martin Beck, Houdini’s manager. He said the play goes from “very tragic to funny to tricks and it will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.”
“My students have the perseverance of Houdini,” Rester said. “He was such a driven man, and they are working so hard. Given all of the challenges involved in a show like this, it hasn’t been a breeze, but we’re getting closer to something magical every day.”
“A Night of One Acts” will be held on Nov. 17, 19 and 21 at 7 p.m. at the PMHS Auditorium on Goodyear Boulevard. The cost of an adult ticket is $8 and $5 for students and seniors.
Stay tuned for a preview of Pearl River Central High School’s theater performance in next Wednesday’s lifestyle section.

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