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SLUH theater returns for a table read of "Master Harold... and the Boys"

For years at St. Louis U. High, one of the staples of sophomore English classes has been the reading of “Master Harold”... and the Boys, a play that addresses the issue of racism in apartheid-era South Africa. This year, in addition to already having read “Master Harold” in the first semester, sophomores and the rest of the SLUH community will have a chance to attend a dramatic reading of the play.

“Master Harold”... and the Boys, is a play written by Athol Fugard set in 1950s South Africa, during the apartheid era of segregation forced upon the country’s Black majority population by the ruling white minority. The play is notable in that it only has three characters—two Black men, Willie and Sam, and one white teenager, Hally—and takes place throughout one continuous scene, making it an ideal choice for a dramatic reading.

The idea for the dramatic reading was hatched by the Fine Arts Department’s Kathryn Whitaker and Kevin McKernan, who were searching for a smaller-scale production to put on in the spring. With Whitaker being a longtime admirer of “Master Harold, and with social distancing guidelines restricting the possibility of a second full-scale theatrical production for this school year, a reading of the play emerged as an obvious choice.

“I just recently discovered my feelings about this because I kept thinking about how important their relationship is, for example, between Willie and Sam and Willie and Hally,” said Whitaker. “And I kept thinking, ‘Oh, how beautiful that parental relationship is with Willie and with Sam and how it fits when you look at the whole piece.”

With the play discussing some sensitive topics, Whitaker and McKernan wanted to make sure they would have an audience who had previously read the text and could properly digest its meaning. They reached out to English teacher Terry Quinn, who deduced that, since the entire sophomore class had read “Master Harold” earlier in the year and still had it relatively fresh in their minds, they would be the perfect audience members.

Throughout the process of rehearsals and practicing for the dramatic reading, Quinn has acted as a sort of liaison between the Fine Arts and English departments, helping to communicate details to his colleagues. In order to incentivize attendance, many sophomore English teachers are offering extra credit. In particular, Quinn is hopeful that students who are only attending the reading of “Master Harold” for extra credit will leave with a newfound understanding and appreciation of the text.

“I think that it is a play that admirably reckons with the cultural and historical forces of racism and the way that those affect personal relationships. It’s dealing with systemic issues in a really personal context, which is something that I really admire about it,” said Quinn.

The performance itself will be put on by the Dauphin Players, and the cast will be made up of seniors Alex Bollini as Hally and Albert Harrold as Sam, and junior Donovan Meachem playing the role of Willie. The actors will not be physically acting out scenes, and will instead concentrate their efforts on mastering the script.

Bollini sees participating in the reading of “Master Harold” as an opportunity to work with the SLUH Theatre Department one more time before graduating.

“The thing I’m most excited about is just to be able to do this one last time at SLUH, and to work with Albert one last time, since  I worked with him in Spoon River and I’ve known him since freshman year. Also, just to revisit what I see as a literary masterpiece from my point of view, and to be able to relive the hardship in ‘Master Harold’ is a great opportunity,” said Bollini.

The play offers a new challenge for the actors, who are used to using action, to imbue a play with emotion and meaning. With the play mostly being a dialogue, the actor must learn how to convey meaning mainly through their voice.

“The voice is always important but especially in this,” said Whitaker. “It's almost like a radio play in terms of what you're hearing. And so we've been talking to the actors about that. It's really interesting and it's teaching us about different things. I would not say it is easy.”

It is not only the members of the cast who are excited to take part in the reading, but also members of the sophomore class.

“I’m just really interested in the whole thing,” said sophomore Nathan Abner. “I absolutely loved reading ‘Master Harold’ when we read it in class a few months ago, and I am really glad that I have a chance to go back and take another look at it.”

Abner’s thoughts were also echoed by a number of his sophomore classmates, many of whom hoped to be able to connect the play to society in America today.

“When we read ‘Master Harold’ in English, I was really drawn to the themes of racism that it discussed. I think it’s really an especially good work to read right now, given that race relations are such an issue in our country right now,” said sophomore Giuseppe Abbate.

The dramatic reading of “Master Harold”... and the Boys will take place next week for the sophomore class only due to the limited space available. Both McKernan and Whitaker are excited to direct a play to an audience that will be familiar with the play, and they are hopeful that it will be a meaningful experience.

“There's something cool I think about handing this off before they leave to a younger generation. They've been so mature about handling it,” said McKernan. “This play I know affected me when I went to SLUH. Something I remember reading when I was a sophomore, and I told (the actors), ‘it's just, it's good to be part of something that I remember having a profound effect on me as a young man.’








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