Nineteen Belle Plaine students wearing protective face masks and Amish costumes took to the stage at the Belle Plaine Performing Arts Center to rehearse their One Act play, “The Amish Project.”
The play is a dramatized version of the 2006 Nickel Mines Amish school shooting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
On Oct. 2, 2006, a gunman entered the one-room school and killed five girls and injured five others before killing himself.
It’s a dark story but one the students are not shying away from.
“Growing up, we’ve always had to sit in a corner with the lights off and play dead and act quiet. It’s something that’s easy for us to imagine when you live in a society where it happens so frequently,” said senior Kadence Bran de Leon, who plays one of the Amish school girls.
She said when performing this part, her goal is to help the audience understand the reality of the true events that plagued this community and others like it.
“We’re just portraying one of the thousands of real events, and I hope people can bring that away when they hear this story. I hope it resonates with them that this is real,” she said.
Even when dealing with the horrific events of the play, senior Hanna Tharaldson, who plays the gunman’s wife, said themes of forgiveness stand out in the piece.
“A huge part of this show is within such a tragedy to be able to come together as people no matter what your beliefs. It’s just such a beautiful thing that we also need in society right now,” she said.
The students will submit a video of their performance virtually this year for the subsection competition on Tuesday, January 26.
Then judges will watch, critique, and rank all of the shows submitted. The cast and crew should learn by Saturday, Jan. 30, if they move on to the section competition.
They would then have the opportunity to re-record the show after reading the feedback.
“Our goal is always to work hard, have fun, come together, and hopefully learn a great deal in the process. The students spend two to three hours after school every day Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturday mornings to make the show come alive for the audience. It takes a great deal of time, talent, and dedication from these 20 students [19 actors and one lighting director] to get their show ready for competition season,” said Director Tony Hartmann.
The actors will be allowed to remove their masks on stage if they can remain six feet apart from other characters. If not, the actors must keep masks on.
“This rule has caused some issues with how to move and place 19 actors on stage and try to create beautiful stage pictures,” he said.
Another challenge this season was spending the first month of practice on Zoom, working through the scripts, memorizing lines, and talking about character development.
Kelly Morrison-Fox, who went through the Belle Plaine One Act program herself and is directing the play with Hartmann this year, said the energy wasn’t there for most of the students over Zoom.
“Having them here this past week and a half, we’ve seen life come back to these kids,” she said. “Being able to interact with each other and put something on that we didn’t know we would get to do has brought so much joy to these kids.”
Senior Corneal Ngaima said the initial challenges were well worth it.
“It was really hard trying to juggle it all, but you come together for something that’s important,” she said.
In addition to the competition schedule, the students will also have the opportunity to perform their show live for a small, invitation-only audience consisting of family members, with a possible additional show for a limited group of friends.