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Teens on stage running the show

Much Ado About Nothing Summer Trailer

OneSong Productions presents William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" directed by Grace Siplon.
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OneSong Productions presents William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" directed by Grace Siplon.

A little before 7:30 on a Friday evening in February, about 40 high school students converge. Some of them are actors and some are directors. They’re grouped off in pods of between four and six people, waiting.

At 7:30, they’re given a prompt in the form of two lines, chosen at random, from a book: this year, the source is J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Previously, it’s been Louis Sachar’s “Holes” or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” These will be the first and last lines of each play – what happens in between is up to the directors, who get to work right away.

By Saturday morning, the plays are written and the groups start rehearsing. That afternoon, they share their plays and break – they go home to rest. Sunday they rehearse until noon, load into the Carrboro ArtsCenter, run through another time and then settle down for the show itself. At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, exactly 48 hours after the prompts are given, the curtain goes up a set of brand-new plays.

“I think the idea of a 48-hour play festival existed before us,” says One Song Productions board member Marichi Gupta. “We took it and made it our own with Feb 48.” Indeed, Feb 48 is not alone – there are similarly time-limited dramatic and film festivals even in North Carolina – yet One Song’s festival is run, start to finish, by Chapel Hill and Carrboro high school students. The process described above will start the evening of Feb. 19, with the plays performed 48 hours later on Feb. 21 at the ArtsCenter. Tickets are $8.

Adults only need to sit back and watch: These teens know their way around a stage.

“We like to think of ourselves as a production company first and a student-run production company second,” Marichi says. “It’s our goal to put on very professional productions.”

Board members take care of all the roles – props, costumes, publicity – and One Song’s season looks much like that of an adult-run community theater group, both in how many and which plays it puts on. This year, for example, One Song presents Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” in March and then Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss” in May. Both are mature, substantial works. “The Glass Menagerie,” notably, only has four actors.

“It would traditionally be difficult with four people because it’s a lot of weight to carry – the density is increased when there are less people,” Marichi says. “These guys are exceptional actors and actresses.”

By its nature as a high school organization, there’s fairly frequent turnover – every three years or so, it’s a wholly different board, Marichi says – yet he knows of One Song members who have gone on to major in theater or theater production in college. With rare exceptions, such as recent graduates, the actors, directors and the eight board members are students at Chapel Hill or Carrboro high schools.

Right now, though, Marichi is one of the exceptions. His family is in the area and he attended Carrboro High between 9th and 11th grade, but he’s currently a senior at New Hampshire’s prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy – though he’s not going back there until March. He’s home recovering from a severe brain hemorrhage he suffered after a cross country race, though he’s treating it less as convalescence and more as an opportunity to return to the One Song board role he occupied last grade.

One Song is keeping him busy, but it’s also helping him recover. It’s important to stay engaged, he says, after a brain injury. It stimulates recovery, and Marichi isn’t worried about his prognosis. Like any high school senior, he’s thinking about the future. Even if he studies mathematics or neuroscience in college, which is likely, he’ll stay involved in the arts, too. One Song has been a fulfilling experience, and he’ll likely be involved again come summer.”

“The love of arts and the love of theater that has inspired One Song, a lot of kids get into it,” Marichi says. “Even if they don’t continue in it as a profession they will be involved with it throughout their lives.”

The February48

When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Carrboro ArtsCenter

Web: 1songproductions.org; artscenterlive.org

Tickets: $8

What: Small groups of high school actors and directors conceptualize, create, and rehearse one-act plays in two days’ time. This performance is the result.

Next: Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” March 10-12

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