The Katrina Project-Is it Worth Seeing?


Rebecca Crosby

At 7:00 last Friday night, when most of Orlando’s residents are retiring for the day and I-Drive is bursting into life, Oak Ridge’s Theatre class put on a production of “The Katrina Project” in the auditorium. With so many other things to do on a Friday night, I counted myself among the 40 or so people who sat down to watch an hour-long play; however, was it worth it?

As soon as my mom pulled up to the auditorium- because this senior didn’t do what she was supposed to do and has no car of her own (stay in virtual school, kids)- I was instantly filled with dread and loathing. In the darkness, the auditorium’s flickering lights illuminated a rickety table, a woman from City Year who pulled the shortest straw, and two groups of three people. It was virtually empty, and all they had to present on first welcome was a red jacket. My grump senses were tingling.

I joined the line and looked at my watch. It was 6:31, the time when they were supposed to open the doors; yet, there they lay before me, closed. So, I waited. And waited. And waited some more. We stood in silence, looking around the relatively new auditorium lobby. Finally, at about 6:40, the doors opened.

When it came to be my turn to pass through the doors, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went through, but the first impression they gave me was a crudely printed sheet of blue paper that served as a sort of playbill. It set the scene already in my mind for what I was going to see. I wanted to go home.

I took my seat towards the middle– not too far, but not too close either. There was a low hum of chatter that just prevailed through the constant hum of the air conditioner, and the mild lighting placed on the atmosphere made my eyes droop. Such a relatively small auditorium seemed to swallow the seven of us up. Mostly, though, there was an overall sense of disinterest. Nearly all of the audience members were on their phones, texting or taking selfies.

For over twenty minutes, I sat in silence, with nothing to see but the yellow curtain the shielded the trainwreck ready to transpire. It smelled like old nachos and a quick vacuum job, and the sound of teenagers behind me flirting refused to leave my ears. I tried to avert my attention to anything else– at that thought, noises starting coming from behind the curtain. I sat up in my seat, ready for the play to begin.

But it didn’t.

Instead, the sound of footsteps running back and forth, nervous whispers and agitated yells of performers who didn’t realize the microphones were on, and slamming doors rumbled from behind the curtain. Giggling, laughing, yelling, squeaks– you name any of the sounds that are forbidden to be made behind the scenes, and they did it. At one point, one of the performers stormed outside, into the audience, and hugged one of her friends. Their entire behavior was unbelievable egregious.

At 7:05 p.m, late again, they finally opened the curtains, fumbling and stuttering the motion. Mr. Payne, the theatre teacher, grabbed his mic and greeted the audience. As he spoke, several performers entered the stage. My suspicion was aroused; something was up. I was right. He explained to the audience that before the Katrina Project would even begin, he was going to showcase his improvisational group and then cut to a 10 minute intermission!

Gritting my teeth, I sat through the eternal damnation of their pre show. In what resembled purgatory, they performed slightly user-generated situations, guided by occasions and rules already chosen. It is a template that seems indestructible, and yet destructive it was. Half of the actors looked as if they were at a boy scout camp their mom forced them into. Most of the time, the teacher was holding their hand and saving them from redundancy, among other displays of amateurism, and even still they committed acts against the stage; they talked to each other instead of to the audience, spoke lowly and with bad enunciation, and remained in the same insufferable events– unable to escape and progress to further the plot as is necessary. Still, in their defense, the teacher did not provide them anything stimulating. Among the cruelties was that the actors had to be spaghetti-cookie-making machines. Mr. Payne also tossed them an empty can and told them to make it into something; oh so creatively, one response was “cotton candy”. Kill me.

When the 10 minute intermission relieved us of the “performance”, I spent the time battling myself to stay. I have endured worse. I sat through “Twilight”… I can do this. I looked around, trying to find something to distract me from my imploding psyche, when suddenly, the auditorium was flipped upside-down.

The lights went out. A hush fell across the audience. A blue light awakens on the stage, and a song crept toward our ears. The silhouettes of the actors enter the stage like swaying wind, and exit just as mysteriously. It is majestic. It is beauty in its truest form.

A girl, probably the narrator, appears. In an ethereal voice beyond coolness and collectiveness, she informs the audience on the Katrina Project.

It is the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans and its surrounding areas, and the play was created in order to show the accounts of real people. The scenes they performed were the real words of the people and authorities impacted by Hurricane.

Their solemn and dedication to the performance nearly erased all my already gathered irritation with the performance. The actors were serious and yet passionate. Real emotion was emanated from the actors, to the point where you forget that they’re students you see in your classes everyday; like any true actor, they make you believe that they are their role. You saw the officer who lost his wife and children because he was protected other families; you saw the teenager who volunteered for rescue and witnessed the senseless deaths of desperate citizens. You saw pain.

The gravity of the situation was not trampled on. The actors did not laugh, did not play. They were completely engulfed in their roles. In fact, in my many years of watching and helping student plays, it was one of the best that I have seen. They did a phenomenal job!

Despite the riveting performance, it is important to note that our theatre group is bringing this play to competition, and it has a few errors that need to be addressed.

Many of the actors were speaking lowly; performers need to speak loud, enunciate better, and speak outward to the audience. When you are acting on stage, it is not like a movie. Speak out. The audience knows who you are speaking to. Another issue was fumbling over lines. When practicing, focus on these issues. It is similar to practicing for a musical recital. You don’t practice the entire song over and over again, you pick out the parts that need work, and then you smooth them out.

Overall, the performance is worthy of support, and Oak Ridge needs to rally behind our Troupe 238, which is the oldest active group in the district, as they head to competition. It was definitely worth my Friday night, especially afterwards when the actors ran to their teacher and chirped about how exatic they felt. You could feel the love between director and actors, so strong that it brightened even my night. If you should go to see it, or perhaps another similar play by them, you’ll find it to be worth your night, too.