The Revealers: A Multimedia Play
Producing "The Revealers: A Multimedia Play"—in a Middle School
Close to the end of the 2003-04 school year, when The Revealers was starting to be used by more and more schools, I got a call from Lindsay Berdan, teacher and drama director at the Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont. She asked, Had I ever thought of adapting my novel for the stage? No, I said, I hadn't. She said, "Well, we want to do it next year."
So began what was, at least for me, the most exciting and rewarding project that involved The Revealers in 2004-05: Crossett Brook's amazingly successful effort to stage the world-premiere production of what we decided to call "The Revealers: A Multimedia Play."
Over the summer, I worked with Lindsay to adapt the novel for the stage, with help from seventh grader Sam Whitney. The task posed a challenge, which we quickly saw as a creative opportunity.
The Revealers has a number of scenes that rely on a local-area computer network, which is contained within its fictional school and is key to the story. Seventh-grade characters instant-message each other, they share their experiences via email, and they wind up creating a multimedia science-fair exhibit on bullying at their school. Also, the story has scenes that are not easily brought to stage—one, for example, in which Richie pours a cold root beer over Russell's head, and another in which Russell is dropped off a small bridge into a running stream.
We decided on a multimedia production. When "The Revealers" opened in January 2005, the audience saw a simple white fabric screen set halfway back on center stage. Unseen behind it was a Macintosh that was hooked up to a projector and run by the production's whiz-bang technical crew, led by technology teacher Eric Hall.
When Russell and Elliot needed to communicate by IM from their bedrooms, each actor sat at a live Mac on stage, before adjoining bedroom sets (our sets were very simple, and modular, for easy changes). The conversations they pretended to type flashed up on twin images of computer screens projected onto the fabric. So as Russell pretended to type, his words crawled across his monitor's image on the screen—then those words flashed up on Elliot's screen.
The audience could read these conversations as they seemed to happen. At the same time, the IM conversations appeared on the real computers at which the two actors sat, so they could read their words aloud as they pretended to type them.
When other kids in the story share their true tales of bullying on the school network, those stories are meant to be read, not acted—so we projected them as typed stories onto the screen. The audience could read each story as it was also narrated by a pre-recorded student's voiceover.
And when the story came to those scenes so difficult to do on stage, we projected videotaped versions, shot earlier on location: in the school cafeteria, at a convenience store downtown, at a bridge near the school where the dropping scene was shot to seem real (though the film crew relied, instead, on creative illusion).
Similarly, the culminating science-fair project was projected on screen—Catalina's interview with Bethany, Richie's re-enacted bullying techniques, even the results of the students' survey—while the actors stood at a Mac and pretended to view the same images the audience could see on the big screen.
Get it? It worked! In fact, it really worked. Dozens of students at Crossett Brook became involved in the production, and many more were drawn into the excitement that the show created. Thanks to some coverage in area newspapers and on Vermont Public Radio, we did a weekend of sold-out shows—then had to add three daytime performances, so that neighboring schools could bus in their students to see "The Revealers: A Multimedia Play."Doug Wilhelm